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'Good Bones' poet Maggie Smith gives virtual reading


  • Maggie Smith.
On Thursday, Feb. 4, Writers & Books is presenting a virtual reading by best-selling poet and  essayist Maggie Smith, followed by a conversation with W&B’s Director of Community Reading Programs Karen vanMeenan. Having been unfamiliar with Smith’s work, I looked up her most lauded poem, “Good Bones,” which Public Radio International called “the official poem of 2016.” (Remember when we thought 2016 was the most hellacious year?) And as I just became a mother for the first time in the midst of a pandemic and political upheaval, Smith’s frank words completely gutted me:

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.

See what I’m saying? Smith nails it, cutting through flowery nonsense and getting to the heart of our terrifying yet worthwhile experience on Earth. She’s pragmatically hopeful while reminding us of our responsibility to each other and our simple capacity for good, which, I think, is what we really need. And “Good Bones” has been translated into a dozen languages, proof of its universal resonance.

Smith is the author of three books of poetry, and her most recent book of essays and quotes, “Keep Moving: Notes on Loss, Creativity, and Change,” is a national bestseller. “Love Warrior” author Glennon Doyle said the book “speaks to you like an encouraging friend reminding you that you can feel and survive deep loss, sink into life’s deep beauty, and constantly, constantly make yourself new.” Sounds like the perfect read for right now.

Maggie Smith’s virtual reading and conversation with Karen vanMeenan takes place Thursday, Feb. 4, at 7:30 p.m. Free, registration is required.

Rebecca Rafferty is CITY’s life editor. She can be reached at