Feature Story

‘Here’s to Poetry Doing Good in the World’

June 24, 2016 – by Ohio Wesleyan

Maggie Smith '99 (Photo courtesy of Studio127 Photography)

OWU Alumna’s Work Gains International Attention, Supports Orlando Youth Alliance

Ohio Wesleyan University graduate Maggie Smith, Class of 1999, is earning international acclaim for her poem “Good Bones,” which was shared by thousands of people via social media following the recent Orlando shootings.

 In her poem, the OWU English major writes:

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. … This place could be beautiful,
right?

Though it was written prior to the June 12 shootings that killed 49 people, “Good Bones” was published recently in the literary journal Waxwing, where it immediately struck a chord with readers.

Smith says she is honored her words have resonated with so many people, garnering social media shares from people including Welsh singer-songwriter Charlotte Church and journalist Caitlin Moran of The (London) Times.

In response to the poem’s popularity Smith has worked with Tupelo Press to produce a frameable, signed broadside of “Good Bones,” with a portion of sale proceeds being donated to the Orlando Youth Alliance, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide a safe space for GLBTQ youth in Central Florida.

Waxwing’s editors have said in interviews that they knew right away they wanted to publish Smith’s work. “[T]his is a poem that speaks for our time, our daily experiences with violence and hate and death, and also of our human resilience,” they told The Seattle Review of Books.

In addition to the Seattle article, Smith has been featured in interviews and articles in outlets including the Guardian, Telegraph, Daily Dot, Huffington Post Italia, i Paper, Oregonian, Kveller, Slate, and Central Ohio’s Columbus Alive.

“I didn’t know this poem would do this work,” Smith has said. “But I also know how poems have been there for me when I needed them.”

Of its impact, including raising funds for Orlando, she adds, “Here’s to poetry doing good in the world.”

“Good Bones” also will be featured in Smith’s forthcoming book, “Weep Up,” scheduled for release by Tupelo Press in 2018. Smith’s first book, “Lamp of the Body,” was published in 2005 and her second, “The Well Speaks of Its Own Poison” in 2015. She also has written three prizewinning chapbooks, “Disasterology,” “The List of Dangers,” and “Nesting Dolls.”

Smith, who lives in Bexley, Ohio, says Ohio Wesleyan, especially English Department professor Robert Flanagan, now retired, helped to hone her writing skills.

“I think I started becoming a writer at OWU—thanks almost entirely to the mentorship and encouragement I received from my professors,” she says.