Patti Smith gives the large projected photo of old friend Allen Ginsberg a cheerful yet poignant wave.
Then, turning to face the Playhouse’s capacity audience, she rockets herself into an astonishing and incendiary reading of Footnote To Howl, accompanied by the relentless smoulder of Philip Glass’s piano.
Animated as if the poem’s words themselves pulse through her veins, Smith crackles with energy as Glass’s music burns to a crescendo. “Holy the supernatural extra brilliant intelligent kindness of the soul!” she proclaims, and the full cathartic force of the performance leaves the audience stunned in its wake.
Whether you’re familiar with all three of the artists or none of them, it matters little: Smith’s bewitching punk earth mother persona, the hypnotic trance of Glass’s minimalist compositions and the visceral mantras of Ginsberg’s words combine into an intoxicating, shamanistic brew which surges with its own unstoppable energy.
Ginsberg’s verses also meet and marry with Smith’s performances of her own compositions which, with their themes of spirituality and optimism beneath the everyday facade of Americana, share common threads.
And words from a different time and place entirely are also included in the homage, with Smith reading a trio of verses from Robert Louis Stevenson, her favourite childhood poet. She even reveals she bought the copy of A Child’s Garden Of Verses she reads from earlier today, in a second-hand store close to Stevenson’s childhood Edinburgh home, winning over an already receptive audience completely.
Glass’s understated charisma is a calming counter to Smith’s energy, but his contribution to The Poet Speaks is equally vital. His three movement solo piano piece is hypnotic and devotional, with a rhythmic punctuation which mirrors that of the poets’ words.
Accompanied by a guitarist, Smith also breaks into song on two occasions, including an intoxicating version of Dancing Barefoot and a tender and sparse cover of Lennon’s Beautiful Boy.
And at the finale, when Glass accompanies her on People Have The Power and the projected face of Ginsberg looks down approvingly like some benevolent deity, The Poet Speaks has transcended from simple performance into something with an empowering and provocative power of its own heartfelt creation.
The Poet Speaks was at the Edinburgh Playhouse as part of the Edinburgh International Festival on Aug 13th 2013.