As soon as I joined The Deb Ball I knew I wanted to ask Maggie Smith for an interview. Her poem, GOOD BONES, brought me to tears, as it did many of us. I saw we had several mutual Facebook friends in common, so I reached out to her with my fangirl heart beating rapidly. I am unbelievably excited that she agreed to speak with us this week!
Maggie Smith is the author of three books of poetry: Good Bones (Tupelo Press, 2017); The Well Speaks of Its Own Poison (2015); and Lamp of the Body (Red Hen Press, 2005). Smith is also the author of three prizewinning chapbooks. Her poems appear in Best American Poetry, the New York Times, Tin House, The Paris Review, American Poetry Review, The Believer, Ploughshares, The Gettysburg Review, Guernica, Plume, AGNI, Virginia Quarterly Review, and elsewhere. Smith has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Ohio Arts Council, and the Sustainable Arts Foundation, among others. In 2016 her poem “Good Bones” went viral internationally and has been translated into nearly a dozen languages. PRI (Public Radio International) called it “the official poem of 2016.”
GOOD BONES is a book written out of the experience of motherhood. The poems are vulnerable, visceral, and urgent in their concerns. The speakers of these poems introduce their children to the world—to its dangers and flaws, its beauties and joys. As Ada Limón writes, “the poems in Good Bones are lyrically charged love letters to a world in desperate need of [Smith’s] generous eye.”
Buy it at Tupelo Press, or enter to win a copy by retweeting the following tweet, or sharing our post on Facebook.
— The Debutante Ball (@DebutanteBall) December 23, 2017
The Virtual Interview:
Your poem, “Good Bones,” was read on Madam Secretary this season. How did that come about? I seem to recall that they abridged it—were you ok with that? How did it feel to watch the episode? I recall reading that you were surprised that Jay read it…I don’t know if you have anything to say about that or not. (personal note- I cried!!)
One of the writers and producers, Joy Gregory, reached out months earlier to ask my permission to use the poem on the show. Of course, I was thrilled. They wanted permission to use the second half of the poem, and because it is a primetime network drama, the word “shithole” would have to be replaced. The CBS legal department approved “hellhole,” so that’s what we went with.
I knew only that it would be read in an office as a way to come to terms with some event that had shaken Madam Secretary and her staff. I didn’t know until a few weeks out that the episode would be named “Good Bones.” I didn’t know until watching it live with everyone else which character would read the poem. I was moved to tears when he took his wallet from his pocket and removed a small piece of paper, and I realized it was my poem. I’d expected “Good Bones” to be read from a computer screen, since most people encountered it via the Internet, but I loved that the poem was presented as something the character carried with him always.
I do think the episode introduced the poem to many people who had never read it before. I may never know, really, the reach of this poem.
Tell us about one thing that’s making you happy right now.
The holidays are always a happy, exciting time in our house. We listen to a lot of holiday music, bake cookies, and watch old Rankin & Bass stop-motion Christmas specials like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. It’s a great time of year to work from home, too, because I can enjoy the lit Christmas tree while I write. So much is wrong in the world, but making Christmastime magic for the kids is cheering me, too.
Where do you love to be?
I love to be in the woods. My husband and I like to get away to a cottage in southern Ohio once or twice a year, and I call that my happy place. It’s quiet, and surrounded by trees, and the deer walk right up to the back deck. I can feel my shoulders relaxing, my jaw unclenching, my blood pressure lowering when I’m surrounded by trees. Actually, the city we live in—Bexley, Ohio—is the only city in the United States designated as an arboretum. The big, old London planes lining the streets won me over.
Share something that’s always guaranteed to make you laugh.
The rap in UB40’s cover of “Red, Red Wine” always does the trick. Or pretty much any scene in “Better Off Dead.”
What is the best perk of your job?
The most obvious perk of my job—working from home as a freelance writer and editor—is flexibility. A typical work day depends a lot on the kind of projects I’m juggling, which can range from copyediting a scholarly article or book to writing readings and language arts lessons for an educational publisher to working on a book of poems for a client, and I find all of these kinds of work creative and satisfying. Working from home also means I’m free to travel for readings, take my children to the zoo or the art museum, or meet a friend for coffee midday if my schedule allows. I love being my own boss.
Find Maggie Smith online: