I first took notice of this incredibly poignant memoir after reading an excerpt where the author Maggie Smith described the many ways her marriage changed after one of her poems, ‘Good Bones’, went viral.
Smith purposefully wrote this book not as a tell-all, but as a “tell-mine”. She recognizes that this is only her side, and repeatedly reminds the reader of this. A sensitive portrayal of a marriage dissolving, Smith grapples with her feelings about her husband, the separation of their households and being a working mother.
One passage in particular resonated with me. Smith recounts a session during her divorce proceedings when her husband’s (female) attorney used air quotes to describe Smith’s writing. As if being an acclaimed artist and creative isn’t work! It was these constant battles that rightfully angered Smith.
The author references other poets as inspiring, which I found really beautiful. Some parts of this book are joyous, some are painful, but Smith shares her feelings with great care and sensitivity. (“𝘙𝘦𝘢𝘥𝘦𝘳, 𝘐 𝘸𝘪𝘴𝘩 𝘐 𝘤𝘰𝘶𝘭𝘥 𝘰𝘧𝘧𝘦𝘳 𝘺𝘰𝘶 20% 𝘮𝘰𝘳𝘦 𝘸𝘪𝘵 𝘢𝘯𝘥 20% 𝘭𝘦𝘴𝘴 𝘱𝘢𝘪𝘯 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘐 𝘸𝘪𝘴𝘩 𝘭𝘪𝘧𝘦 𝘩𝘢𝘥 𝘰𝘧𝘧𝘦𝘳𝘦𝘥 𝘮𝘦 𝘵𝘩𝘰𝘴𝘦 𝘣𝘰𝘯𝘶𝘴𝘦𝘴 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘥𝘪𝘴𝘤𝘰𝘶𝘯𝘵𝘴, 𝘵𝘰𝘰”.)
At once a story about a marriage ending, this is also a story of new beginnings. I found it to be incredibly inspiring.
“𝘛𝘩𝘪𝘴 𝘣𝘰𝘰𝘬 𝘪𝘴 𝘱𝘰𝘸𝘦𝘳𝘦𝘥 𝘣𝘺 𝘲𝘶𝘦𝘴𝘵𝘪𝘰𝘯𝘴, 𝘮𝘢𝘯𝘺 𝘰𝘧 𝘵𝘩𝘦𝘮 𝘶𝘯𝘢𝘯𝘴𝘸𝘦𝘳𝘢𝘣𝘭𝘦, 𝘴𝘰 𝘵𝘩𝘦𝘪𝘳 𝘧𝘶𝘦𝘭 𝘣𝘶𝘳𝘯𝘴 𝘧𝘰𝘳𝘦𝘷𝘦𝘳.”
(𝘐 𝘳𝘦𝘤𝘦𝘪𝘷𝘦𝘥 𝘢 𝘤𝘰𝘮𝘱𝘭𝘪𝘮𝘦𝘯𝘵𝘢𝘳𝘺 𝘤𝘰𝘱𝘺 𝘰𝘧 𝘵𝘩𝘪𝘴 𝘣𝘰𝘰𝘬 𝘧𝘳𝘰𝘮 𝘚𝘪𝘮𝘰𝘯 & 𝘚𝘩𝘶𝘴𝘵𝘦𝘳 𝘈𝘶𝘥𝘪𝘰 𝘵𝘩𝘳𝘰𝘶𝘨𝘩 @Libro.fm. 𝘈𝘭𝘭 𝘰𝘱𝘪𝘯𝘪𝘰𝘯𝘴 𝘢𝘳𝘦 𝘮𝘺 𝘰𝘸𝘯.)
About the Book:
In her memoir You Could Make This Place Beautiful, poet Maggie Smith explores the disintegration of her marriage and her renewed commitment to herself in lyrical vignettes that shine, hard and clear as jewels. The book begins with one woman’s personal, particular heartbreak, but its circles widen into a reckoning with contemporary womanhood, traditional gender roles, and the power dynamics that persist even in many progressive homes. With the spirit of self-inquiry and empathy she’s known for, Smith interweaves snapshots of a life with meditations on secrets, anger, forgiveness, and narrative itself. The power of these pieces is cumulative: page after page, they build into a larger interrogation of family, work, and patriarchy.
You Could Make This Place Beautiful, like the work of Deborah Levy, Rachel Cusk, and Gina Frangello, is an unflinching look at what it means to live and write our own lives. It is a story about a mother’s fierce and constant love for her children, and a woman’s love and regard for herself. Above all, this memoir is an argument for possibility. With a poet’s attention to language and an innovative approach to the genre, Smith reveals how, in the aftermath of loss, we can discover our power and make something new. Something beautiful.