Margot Mifflin
May 20, 1994 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Much of Patti Smith’s poetry of the ’70s looked better through the lens of youth, when phrases like ”the high cranial of mill pogany” seemed charged with mystery rather than choked with inanity. Even so, Early Work proves that Smith’s powers as a performer extended, at times, to her writing. The poem ”Oath,” parts of which appeared in her rendition of ”Gloria,” is a pledge of feminist self- determination that stands alone in the annals of rock lit. Early Work is long on Smith’s murky, grammar-impaired prose poems and short on her more compact, incantatory works (including her song lyrics). But it burns, nonetheless, with the galvanizing sense of faith and transcendence that made her the last of the great rock poets. B+

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