Maggie Smith

Award-winning Poet
Author of Good Bones

Readings & Lecture Topics

  • Poetry & the Arts in Tumultuous Times
  • The “Viral” Poem
  • Writing the Persona Poem
  • Making It & Breaking It: The Poetic Line
  • Beyond the Pastoral: Poems of Place
  • An Evening with Maggie Smith

“Smith’s poems affirm the virtues of humanity: compassion, empathy, and the ability to comfort one another when darkness falls.” —D.A. Powell

“Maggie Smith demonstrates what happens when an abundance of heart and intelligence meets the hands of a master craftsperson, reminding us again that the world, for a true poet, is blessedly inexhaustible.” —Erin Belieu

“Maggie Smith’s are poems of transformation: haunting, gorgeous, intimately unsettling. I cannot remember when I last read a book to match her powers of delight.” —Linda Gregerson

Maggie Smith is the author of three books of poetry: Good Bones (Tupelo Press, Fall 2017); The Well Speaks of Its Own Poison (Tupelo Press, 2015); and Lamp of the Body (Red Hen Press, 2005). Lamp of the Body won the 2003 Benjamin Saltman Award from Red Hen Press. The Well Speaks of Its Own Poison won the 2012 Dorset Prize, selected by Kimiko Hahn, and the 2016 Gold Medal in Poetry for the Independent Publishers Book Awards. The collection was also a finalist for the National Poetry Series and the Montaigne Medal, and poems from this collection were awarded an NEA Fellowship in poetry. Smith is also the author of three prizewinning chapbooks: Disasterology (Dream Horse Press, 2016); The List of Dangers (Kent State/Wick Poetry Series, 2010); and Nesting Dolls (Pudding House, 2005).

The Well Speaks of Its Own Poison delves into the depths of fairy tales to transform the daily into encounters with the marvelous but dangerous. The Rumpus writes: “These poems are studded with images we recognize from fairytales, offering iconic color in the forest gloom: wolves, foxes, deer, skinned rabbits, apples, hearts, white bones. Through Smith’s imaginative leaps, a kind of sorcery occurs, the lines shape-shifting quickly and musically.”

Good Bones is Maggie Smith’s most intimate and direct book yet. Smith writes out of the experience of motherhood, inspired by watching her own children read the world like a book they’ve just opened, knowing nothing of the characters or plot. These are poems that have a sense of moral gravitas and personal urgency, poems that stare down darkness while cultivating and sustaining possibility. Ada Limón writes, “Truthful, tender, and unafraid of the dark, the poems in Good Bones are lyrically charged love letters to a world in desperate need of her generous eye.”

The title poem of Good Bones went viral internationally after the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida, and the murder of MP Jo Cox in England. To date the poem has touched more than a million readers and has been translated into nearly a dozen languages, including Spanish, French, Italian, German, Bengali, Korean, Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, and Malayalam. It was called the “Official Poem of 2016” by Public Radio International, but the poem has continued to be shared widely around the world in these tumultuous times. In April 2017 “Good Bones” was featured on the CBS primetime drama Madam Secretary—in an episode also called “Good Bones”—and Meryl Streep read the poem at the 2017 Academy of American Poets gala at Lincoln Center. The Telegraph (London) wrote that the poem is “a beautiful elegy for an imperfect world marked by tragedy, exploring the difficulty of finding positivity in the face of suffering…. The poem is a call for us all to improve the world, even if it might just this moment seem beyond repair.”

Smith is the recipient of fellowships and awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Academy of American Poets, the Ohio Arts Council, and the Sustainable Arts Foundation, among others. Her poems have appeared in the New York Times, the Paris Review, American Poetry Review, Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, the Kenyon Review, The Southern Review, and Virginia Quarterly Review. Poems have been widely anthologized in volumes such as The Best American Poetry series, the Knopf anthology, Resistance, Rebellion, Life: 50 Poems Now, Speigel & Grau’s How Lovely the Ruins: Inspirational Poems and Words for Difficult Times, and a number of textbooks.

A freelance writer and editor, and a Consulting Editor for the Kenyon Review, Smith is also a passionate and enthusiastic teacher. She has taught creative writing at Gettysburg College, in the MFA program at The Ohio State University, and at various conferences and nonprofits around the country. She is the Visiting Poet at Ohio Wesleyan University for 2017–2018. She lives with her family in Ohio.

Maggie Smith’s website

Maggie Smith is the author of three books of poetry: Good Bones (Fall 2017); The Well Speaks of Its Own Poison, winner of the Dorset Prize and the 2016 Independent Publisher Book Awards Gold Medal in Poetry; and Lamp of the Body, winner of the Benjamin Saltman Award. She is also the author of three prizewinning chapbooks. Smith’s poems have appeared in the many other journals and anthologies. Her poem “Good Bones” went viral internationally and was called the “Official Poem of 2016” by the BBC/Public Radio International. In April 2017 “Good Bones” was featured on the CBS primetime drama Madam Secretary, and to date the poem has been translated into nearly a dozen languages. Smith is the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Ohio Arts Council, and the Sustainable Arts Foundation, among others.

GOOD BONES (2017)
“One of those specific tests for me as a reader is listening to hear if a poet has something to tell me about the sky/moon/stars/wind/ocean/autumn leaves/sun—the old stock footage of verse—that I don’t already know. In her wondrous new poetry collection, Good Bones, turns out Maggie Smith has much to tell us. And she does so with such a clean, aching clarity of lyricism that I discover now frequently exhausted human touchstones freshly, with real surprise. It’s Smith’s dynamically precise and vivid images, and her uncanny ability to find just the right word or action to crack open our known experience, that make Good Bones an extraordinary book. Maggie Smith demonstrates what happens when an abundance of heart and intelligence meets the hands of a master craftsperson, reminding us again that the world, for a true poet, is blessedly inexhaustible.” -Erin Belieu

“As if lost in the soft, bewitching world of fairy tale, Maggie Smith conceives and brings forth this metaphysical baedeker, a guidebook for mother and child to lead each other into a hopeful present. Smith’s poems affirm the virtues of humanity: compassion, empathy, and the ability to comfort one another when darkness falls. ‘There is a light,’ she tells us, ‘and the light is good.’” -D.A. Powell

THE WELL SPEAKS OF ITS OWN POISON (2015)

“Enchantment: that rarest of all poetic gifts. Maggie Smith’s are poems of transformation: haunting, gorgeous, intimately unsettling. I cannot remember when I last read a book to match her powers of delight.” -Linda Gregerson

Delving into the depths of fairy tales to transform the daily into encounters with the marvelous but dangerous, Maggie Smith’s poems question whether the realms of imagination and story can possibly be safe. Even as her compressed stories are unfolding on a suburban cul de sac, they are deep in the mythical woods, “where children, despite their commonness, / are a delicacy.”

LAMP OF THE BODY (2005)
“Here in Maggie Smith’s first book we encounter a voice that is spare, confident, and precise. Her images click into place, and the movement of each poem is deft, muscular, taut. These are poems we trust, poems that ask hard questions while at the same time convincing us of the magic in the world. Smith’s voice is reserved, yet she carries her world forward in her teeth, so to speak. There’s wisdom and acceptance in many of the poems, coupled with a willingness to utter what she does not understand, a recognition ‘that worse happens to better than I.’ She embraces the mystery. There’s a kinship with the Ohio landscape, but also the recognition that ‘darkness ploughs its furrows here.’ These are poems that do not flinch in the face of grief while at the same time they do not give into formulas that either comfort or accuse. I admire the courage and the control, the gorgeous turns, the leaps she takes in the poems while keeping the center of each poem intact. These are poems that do not wobble; the voice is confident and secure, the authority claimed, and the darkness met head on―’mealy, and bitter’ but as she writes in ‘The Poem Speaks to Danger’: ‘I am the mouth/that can hold more . . . the globe // of some new, ready fruit.’” -Carol Potter

GOOD BONES

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.

–From Good Bones

STITCHES

Twice they opened me
and twice, after sewing me shut,

they said the thread would dissolve,
they said my body would dissolve

the thread. But see how frugal
I’ve become, saving every stitch

for future alterations and repairs.
Any woman with my blood

saves—is a saver. When given one
sheet of paper, my daughter

cuts out the heart she wants
and keeps the scraps for stars,

snowflakes, flowers. Twice
they cut babies from my body,

but the body remains.
See how nothing is wasted.

The more they cut, the more I have.

–from Linebreak