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GHOST WEEK: An Examination of Poetry from Maggie Smith, featuring GOLDENROD, THE WELL SPEAKS ITS OWN POISON, & GOOD BONES

By Leslie Lindsay

Gorgeous, ancestral, matrilineal collection of poetry with a focus on nature.




Maggie Smith is the author of Keep Moving (Simon & Schuster, 2020), Good Bones (Tupelo Press, 2017), The Well Speaks of Its Own Poison (Tupelo Press, 2015), Lamp of the Body (Red Hen Press, 2005), and three prizewinning chapbooks. The recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Ohio Arts Council, and the Sustainable Arts Foundation, Smith is a freelance writer and editor.


I have been on a poetry kick lately because reading it always makes me a more insightful, deliberate writer–in whatever genre. GOOD BONES (Tupleo Press 2017), I’ll admit to following in love with based on the title alone, might be my favorite collection from Maggie Smith and I’ve read GOLDENROD as well as THE WELL SPEAKS ITS OWN POISON )both good, but GOOD BONES just spoke more tenderly to me, resonated in a way I was not expecting.

For me, a collection of poetry ‘works’ when the themes and motifs are repeated and used artistically, when they sort of collide and bounce off one another. 

GOOD BONES presents a fragmented melding of a girl in the mountains, and she may be ancestral, ancient, sort of a sprite of mystique …like someone’s mother as a girl, perhaps. She appears and disappears, much like I think she should. There’s also a close examination of lightness and darkness here, too, of feathers and sky and earth, motherhood and childrenWhat I think Smith does so well as a poet is she provides breathing room for the reader to absorb the world she’s painting. There is space to observe and allow one’s own thoughts to linger, or to fill in the blank.

Gold Medal Winner, Poetry
2018 Independent Publisher Book Awards

Named one of the Five Best Poetry Collections of 2017 by the Washington Post

Poetry also should challenge and inspire, in fact, I’d wager all writing should do this. Did GOOD BONES challenge and inspire? Yep–I found myself jotting notes, images, ideas, comments that came to mind as I read.

While the title of this collection is called GOOD BONES, one poem within is actually titled “Good Bones,” and was the ‘official poem of 2016’ and while that was 5 years ago, it is still resonate today.

Here’s a sample from GOOD BONES:


They are alone, the woman and the girl.

The man has gone over the mountain

to work for a year, maybe longer, and the sunlight

here is a little bitter, the color of turmeric,

the same hold as the leaves floating down.

The girl has an eye like a spyglass for birds.

She must be marked, the woman thinks.

Wherever she walks, the shadow of a hawk

falls on her, the way a light trains on something.


“Smith’s voice is clear and unmistakable as she unravels the universe, pulls at a loose thread and lets the whole thing tumble around us, sometimes beautiful, sometimes achingly hard. 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.”     

—Ada Limón

See this recent NER interview with Ada Limon

Photo by Nigam Machchhar on Pexels.com

THE WELL SPEAKS OF ITS OWN POISON (Tupelo Press, 2015) is magical and troubling, about the shimmering of time in the forest, of children, who, not unlike Hansel and Gretel, travel along a wooden path through the thickets of thorns and truth, it’s like a dark fairytale capturing darkness and light, worry and mirth. It speaks of coffins and hauntings, children and motherhood, myths, and folklore; it’s enchanting and beguiling.

Winner of the 2012 Dorset Prize,
selected by Kimiko Hahn

Gold Medal Winner, Poetry
2016 Independent Publisher Book Awards

Here’s a taste:

It’s what they call the devil, as in cunning.

When his cloven heart is hungry, he finds a way to feed it.

For every child sewn up into a sack and drowned,

candy-dipped in pitch, cut and seasoned, there is one

untouched but waiting. Name your first son Sorrowful

if you must. At least you have a son. If the devil comes

to claim him, carve the eyes and tongue from a deer to prove the deed done.

What will you tell your son

about this world? That children can be unzipped

from the bellies of beasts? No one is out of danger.

Darkness threads a needle as fast as light. As the devil eats,

bones pile under the table. Bread cries out in the oven

for fear of burning. A heart nestles among red apples.

“Some kind of primary mythic world lies behind and throughout these adult tales of ultimate matters. Maggie Smith’s skill at bringing archetypes into her own individual stories is both seamless and transforming. The Well Speaks of Its Own Poison is as much about the terrible and beautiful dreams of children as it is about waking up as a parent. This is a rare book of poems.”

—Stanley Plumly

Most recently, Maggie Smith returns to her original craft of poetry (after a successful bestseller, KEEP MOVING, a collection of personal essays and affirmations about a grieving nation), in which she guided readers ‘toward discovering growth through struggle, resilience through practice, and transformation through small actions.” -People Magazine. GOLDENROD: Poems (One Signal/Atria, July 2021) is a powerful collection exploring parenthood, solitude, love, memory, and more. Pulling objects from everyday life–a hallway mirror, a rock in her son’s pocket, a field of goldenrod at the edge of the road–she reveals the magic of the present moment. It’s a meditation on what might be the most cherished, and elusive piece of our lives.

Here, she takes a bit of poetry from autocorrect, making GOLDENROD even more relevant to today’s world.

Her phone, ‘doesn’t observe/the high holidays, autocorrecting/ shana tova to shaman tobacco,/Rosh Hashanah to rose has hands.

GOLDENROD celebrates the mundane, the space between thought and light, experience, and intent.

“Acclaimed poet Maggie Smith returns after the success of her bestselling collection, ‘Keep Moving,’ to delve into the everyday moments that make up family, love, and ultimately, life.”

-Zibby Owens for Good Morning America

Artistic images of GOOD BONES, GOLDENROD, and THE WELL SPEAKS OF ITS OWN POISON designed and photographed by L.Lindsay. Follow on Instagram @leslielindsay1 #alwayswithabook #bookner

For more information, to connect with Maggie Smith, or to purchase a copy of any of her books, please visit:


  • Support your local in-person bookstore or order through Bookshop.org
  • This title may also be available through other online sellers. 

You might also like:

I was reminded of the work of Laraine Herring, particularly A CONSTELLATION OF GHOSTS: A Speculative Memoir meets the poetry of Molly Spencer which can be viewed HERE and HERE.


A GHOST IN THE THROAT by Doireann Ní Ghríofa, and in November: PURE FLAME by Michelle Orange, THE BOOK OF MOTHER by Violaine Hussman, Anne Elizabeth Moore’s THE GENTRIFIER, more.

Browse all books featured on Always with a Book since 2018 on Bookshop.org. Browse all books featured in just October 2021.

Looking for your next book? New authors/titles, author interviews and insights here, http://www.leslielindsay.com|Always with a Book every Wednesday, but some Mondays and Fridays, too.

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If you loved this interview, please consider sharing it on social media. Reviewing books and talking about them with others on-line and in-person is one small way to engage with & support the literary community.


Maggie Smith is the author of Keep Moving (Simon & Schuster, 2020), Good Bones (Tupelo Press, 2017), The Well Speaks of Its Own Poison (Tupelo Press, 2015), Lamp of the Body (Red Hen Press, 2005), and three prizewinning chapbooks. The recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Ohio Arts Council, and the Sustainable Arts Foundation, Smith is a freelance writer and editor.

Retrived from The Poetry Foundation on 10.14.21


Leslie Lindsay is the creator and host of the award-winning author interview series, “Always with a Book.” Since 2013, Leslie, named “one of the most influential book reviewers” by Jane Friedman, ranks in the top 1% of all GoodReads reviewers and has conducted over 700 warm, inquisitive conversations with authors as wide-ranging as Robert Kolker and Shari Lapena to Helen Phillips and Mary Beth Keane, making her website a go-to for book lovers world-wide. Her writing & photography have appeared in various print journals and online, including Psychology Today, Mud Season Review, A Door = Jar, Mutha, Literary Mama, The Manifest-Station, among others. She is the award-winning author of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA: A Parents’ Guide to Childhood Apraxia of Speech, an audiobook narrated by Leslie from Penguin Random House. A former psychiatric R.N. at the Mayo Clinic, Leslie’s memoir, MODEL HOME: Motherhood, Madness, & Memory, is currently on submission with Catalyst Literary Management. Leslie resides in the Chicago area with her family.

Photo cred: K.M. Lindsay

Instagram|Facebook|Twitter|Bookshop.org|Penguin Random House

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