A Review of Good Bones by Maggie Smith

by Rachel Nix

Maggie Smith pitched an idea at us in 2016 right when everything seemed too heavy and resilience was becoming too tiring: she told us this world still has good bones --

This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.

America was reeling from its newest mass shooting, the 49 lives taken at Orlando’s Pulse Nightclub; between the losses and the apathy that separated the good from making change, our foundations were shook and nothing felt particularly sturdy anymore. Then here came this poem, simple enough but with the right light behind it so we could catch a glimpse of what could come.

The poem “Good Bones” became the title of a new book by Smith in 2017, with work that carries her notion much further. Leaning on simple language while nudging with juxtaposition and parable-like delivery, each poem is an easy read but makes no effort to sit still or offer any assumed endings; we, as readers, end up taking off with thoughts unexpected. Essentially, with this book Smith is attempting to tell her children the world is not necessarily kind or ready to be better, but we ought to be - we could be. She presses both her children and the readers to eye this world with realism, to wrap metaphor around the sharp edges, and to understand that good exists often enough because of pain or what is perceived as such.

From “Stitches”:

they cut babies from my body,

but the body remains.
See how nothing is wasted.

The more they cut, the more I have.

Her children, with their untamed minds, also lead Smith to re-canvass her explanations. In the tone of “Deer Field”, we remember what it’s like to have our wonder threatened. In the breakdown of “Size Equals Distance”, we’re left to realize answers are usually still questions. Beyond that, if in looking for uncomplicated ways to explain or understand, are we lessening the value of curiosity?

Good Bones is a book with intention, though not always obvious and Maggie Smith doesn’t mean to point us directly to the light; instead, she coaxes us to be less fearful of the dark. Much like the poem that started it all, this collection is one we’ll need to come back to and one that won’t lose aim.

Good Bones is available through Tupelo Press.

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