It’s not often that a poem goes viral. But it happened in 2016, with “Good Bones” by Maggie Smith. It speaks to anyone who’s concerned about the current state of our world — which is probably most of us. It’s honest, and hopeful, and feels like a friend taking your arm, maybe a little bit too firmly, and saying, “We can get through this.”
So I was delighted when I was asked to interview Maggie at the Writers’ Block Festival, an annual gathering put on by Louisville Literary Arts. She and I were onstage at Spalding University’s College Street Building on a Saturday morning, in front of an appreciative audience of writers, poets, agents, and publishers.
On the runaway success of “Good Bones”:
“As poets, we’re used to having our audience be other poets, which is fairly small, so even when non-poets read our poems, it feels like a win. So to have that many non-poets read a poem feels pretty strange, but also wonderful. I’m glad that something that I wrote out of my own anxiety as a parent maybe provided some comfort for other people — which is never my intention. Whenever I’m writing, I’m writing for me. But the fact that it did something for even one other person matters to me.”
On her work as an editor:
“I do all kinds of freelance work but one of the things I do that I love the most is I work on books for other poets. So if a poet has a manuscript and they’re having a hard time placing it, or maybe they haven’t sent it out yet but they’re not comfortable yet, people mail me their books. And then I spend time pulling them apart and line-editing all the poems, and rethinking the order and rethinking the sections and rethinking the title, and then I send it back and say, ‘This is what I think is the strongest version of this thing that you have,’ and I love it. I think it’s one of my callings.”
On how her children sometimes inspire her poetry:
“[My daughter] Violet, age four, came up to me once in the house and said, ‘There were lights in the lemon trees, so you could see the lemons, and a whistle so you could call your friends.’ And I thought, ‘Well, that’s a weird thing for a four-year-old to walk up to you and say in your house.’ And i don’t know if that was a dream or just some weird thing that she thought up, but I wrote it down, and I made it into a poem, called ‘Lights Lemons.'”