I sniffed out their spirits as I silently scurried from floor to floor, longing for discourse with a gone procession of smoking caterpillars.
—Patti Smith, from Just Kids
Poets think in lines, prose writers in sentences; the best of both work from sound to sense, with an ear for the music in their compositions. S for Sentence celebrates lyricism in prose, the play and craft at work in the artful sentence. We post a sentence a month along with comments by a guest writer on the craft that shapes it, on what makes it great. In one or two sentences.
—Pearl Abraham, Editor
“Gone”—the adjective anchors the sentence, or maybe sinks it: “gone” as in Kerouac’s idiom of cool or stoned (the “gonest girl”); “gone” as in ruined; “gone” most importantly in Patti Smith’s sense (Gone Again), as in dead. Just Kids, an elegy,
mourns the loss of Smith’s artistic and romantic partner Robert Mapplethorpe, but it is structured by other absences as well; the memoir charts at least fifteen deaths with more unnamed ones (soldiers, drag queens, artists) afloat. After the evisceration of so many, both friends and strangers, who lost their lives in Vietnam or to drugs and AIDS, Smith ponders what her survival means. What art can she offer? Here, she describes herself at a more innocent moment of longing, a time when the gone are still children’s stories and not—yet—her most beloved ones. This sentence shows Patti scurrying to learn the hard truth Just Kids drives home: With those she relied on gone, she must learn again not only how to answer, but also how to ask, an artist’s most crucial question: “who…are…you?”
—Sarah Mesle writes for the LA Review of Books and edits Avidly.org