Patti Smith at Middle Earth Books

In celebration of National Poetry Month, Temple Libraries’ Special Collections Research Center (SCRC) is featuring a small pop-up exhibit about the publication of poet and punk musician Patti Smith’s Kodak in 1972 by the Philadelphia bookstore, Middle Earth Books. The one-case exhibit is in the SCRC Reading Room on the 1st floor of Charles Library and will be up through April, Monday through Friday, 8:30 to 5:30.

In the early 1970s, Patti Smith was just beginning her punk rock singing career, but she was already known in New York’s punk scene for her poetry, where she regularly did poetry readings before shows at the Mercer Art Center and at the Poetry Project in St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery in the East Village. During this time, she was also doing readings at Middle Earth Books in Philadelphia. Founded in 1969 by Samuel and Sims Amico, the bookstore, located at 1134 Pine Street, began hosting readings and publishing their own chapbooks, highlighting the underground literary and art scene. The Special Collections Research Center houses a collection of the records of the bookstore from 1972 to 1979. Donated by the founder Samuel Amico in 2009, the records include materials relating to Middle Earth Books’ poetry readings, publications, and commercial activities promoting poetry and poets. It includes correspondence, posters, paste-ups, and broadsides of many well-known poets of the 1970s.

In a 1995 Philadelphia City Paper interview entitled “Seventh Heaven” by A.D. Amorosi, Patti Smith was asked about what Middle Earth Books meant to her and she responded, “If it wasn’t my first reading, it was the first out-of-town thing because I was living in New York at the time, which made it very exciting. Like a first job….I was 22 and Robert Mapplethorpe and I were living together at the time in the Chelsea Hotel and he took the Polaroid for the cover. Didn’t make any money (laughs) but just the thrill of seeing one’s work, that someone thought it worthy of printing…”.

The exhibit includes pages from the original typescript of Kodak, two photographs of Smith reading at Middle Earth Books, two letters from Smith to the owners of Middle Earth, and the published volume, one of only 100 copies printed. In one of the letters on exhibit, she writes of the impact her association with the Philadelphia bookshop had on her creative process: “That reading at Phillie was so good for me. Something snapped. Ever since then I got better. looser. Sacrifice the art for the moment. It feels so good.”

The Special Collections Research Center has numerous contemporary poetry volumes and broadsides throughout our collections. Several of our archival collections, like the Middle Earth Books records, are dedicated to documenting the writing and publishing of poetry. For more information about our collections, please visit our website or email us at scrc@temple.edu.

Kimberly Tully
Librarian and Curator of Rare Books

Smith standing on table
Patti Smith reading at Middle Earth Books, Philadelphia, circa 1972
Share and Enjoy:
  • Print
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • email
  • Google Buzz
  • Tumblr