Goldenrod by Maggie Smith
A collection of poems about motherhood, divorce, identity, and the anxieties of the present, from the poet who wrote the inspirational Good Bones.
The usual “pros/cons” format for these posts doesn’t really work for a collection of poetry, so I’ll just name the one that had the most impact on me:
“Airplanes” made me gasp from the shock of sudden empathy, even though it’s a poem about being one level removed from horror, and as a white, childless man, I’m two levels removed. It made me realize just how much we abstract away the idea of violence as something horrible that happens to other people. It’s selfish but I don’t think it’s pure selfishness; it’s a wall the brain throws up in self-defense.
One Thing I Like
Reading a collection like Goldenrod versus individual poems made me appreciate how much Smith works within the literary art form most devoted to formalism, structure, and timelessness, but uses it in a way that makes it feel direct, personal, and immediate. The ideas in Smith’s poems are so relatable, and the language often so informal, that they hide so much of the work that goes into them, finding exactly the perfect word or phrase or format to give an idea exactly the right impact. The end result feels conversational, but if the other speaker in the conversation had just casually dropped an observation that was so profound that you didn’t understand it so much as felt it.
I’m ignorant of poetry, so I can only comment on the number of times this book left me blindsided by an observation, or simply left feeling the exact sense of tension or calm that the poet felt when she conceived the poem. Smith doesn’t seem to go for grandiose wordplay so much as the perfectly direct expression of a feeling. She’s become one of my favorite poets.