Maggie Smith, author of Public Radio International’s “Official Poem of 2016,” will be at the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing for a poetry reading and book signing on Jan. 19, the first of a larger speaker series set to take place throughout the semester.
"Good Bones," a poem Smith wrote about the difficulties of motherhood during times of tragedy, became popular in the US after the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando and in the UK after the murder of British politician Jo Cox.
The poem has since been translated into many different languages as people continue to identify with the sentiments captured in her work.
“It's been a strange thing to have the poem become so successful because of despair,” Smith said. “I often joke that I wish I had written a poem that people share when something happy happens like the birth of a child.”
While Smith does not consider her poetry to be political, she said that for many people, her poetry functions as an escape from tragic events.
“A lot of people are finding that the poem speaks to them even if they aren’t often readers of poetry," Smith said. "So, my readings turn into a space away from all of the clamor happening outside of the room."
This event is the first of the Distinguished Visiting Writers Series hosted by the Virginia G. Piper Writers Center this year. The goal of the series, which is free to the public, is to create opportunities for the audience to engage with diverse writing forms.
Angie Dell, the managing director of the Piper Center, said that the goal of the series is to engage the event goers so they “leave the space with ongoing thought processes and questions.”
“The Distinguished Visiting Writer Series is no doubt the foremost public facing program of the Piper Center,” Dell said.
While the series has been an important component of the Piper Center since its establishment in 2003, Dell said it has influenced changes at the Center, including a new backyard patio area that features the signatures of past visiting writers and program developments that continue to grow community engagement.
The Piper Center also features various creative writing courses, graduate assistant interns and other key events such as the Desert Nights Rising Stars conference in late February.
Jordan Walker, a junior majoring in business law and a member of new ASU club JustWrite, said the poetry community at ASU has grown throughout her time as a student and has become more inclusive to those who may not have direct connections between poetry and their area of study.
“I am glad I have become a part of such a great community,” Walker said.
Besides JustWrite, the growth of the poetry community at ASU can be seen through online literary magazines such as the Superstition Review.
“There are so many literary events in our community that it is hard sometimes to just find time for them,” said Mark Haunschild, faculty adviser of poetry for the Superstition Review.
Haunschild also said the fact that such an accessible poem has made such a large impact makes this event especially exciting.
“This will not be a poetry reading that puts people to sleep,” Haunschild said.