At this point, you’ve probably read the 2016 poem “Good Bones,” about motherhood and the individual acts that brighten the “dark world” we live in, that changed writer Maggie Smith’s life. Meryl Streep read it aloud at the Academy of American Poets’ 2017 Poetry & the Creative Mind gala. Mothers all over the world reposted it on Instagram. It was even quoted on an episode of Madam Secretary. “Good Bones” established Smith as a brutally honest observer who hasn’t entirely given up hope. “Life is short,” the poem reads, “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.”
After her poem went viral, the fame surrounding it complicated her home life. Soon, she was out on tours and busy with writing and constantly apologizing for it to her husband at home. “It created some growing pains in my marriage because I had been the caregiving parent,” she says on this week’s episode of the Cut’s In Her Shoes podcast. Her memoir, You Could Make This Place Beautiful, dives deep into these experiences as a wife and mother, but it doesn’t end there. As she wrote in an excerpt that ran in the Cut this spring, “Even after my poem went viral, I was still hidden, cleverly disguised as one of the least visible creatures on earth: a middle-aged mother.” Those parts, over the course of 320 pages, are no longer in hiding.
“This memoir felt like open sea swimming,” she says. “Writing a memoir is such a crash course in vulnerability.” But this isn’t just a divorce or marriage book, as Smith notes. This is the story of a woman who finally realized how many concessions and sacrifices she had made and stopped once and for all.
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