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Stop! Look! Listen! Caitlin Thompson's Reading Recomendation

I’ve read a lot of great and varied books this year so far, everything from queer romance noir fantasies to nonfiction about moss, but the work that has stuck with me the most is You Could Make This Place Beautiful by Maggie Smith. 

This work, a memoir by a poet best known for her poem Good Bones, which has gone viral more than once, is the work that has most resonated with me in the last few months. 

The title of this memoir also came from the aforementioned viral poem, and that feels very deliberate. The viral poem, like many viral things, came with consequences, and much of the book is focused on the ways the poem impacted her life. It was shared as part of an episode of a lauded TV show, and was read by Meryl Streep at a major event, it made her career, and it also played a role in the destruction of her marriage. 

This is a book about divorce but it’s so much more than that. It’s about being a parent in trying circumstances and balancing the beauty of poetry with the logistics of motherhood. It’s told mostly in short, well-crafted chapters that interact with each other like relay runners, each chapter passing the next chapter the baton. Some chapters have overlapping or even repetitive information, but mostly it works. 

Reading this book is a little like having a conversation with a friend you love, who is also fundamentally mysterious. There are many details and major stories that happened during the time Smith writes about in the memoir that she makes clear she is choosing not to share. 

Of course, this is her right, and is probably, given the ages of the kids involved, the right thing to do, but the way she brings it up so often feels a little frustrating. 

For me there are many sentences and lines I will return to, over and over again in this work, and I’m already looking forward to reading it again. 

— Caitlin Thomson is co-founder of The Poetry Marathon, an international writing event. Her work has appeared in numerous anthologies and literary journals including: The Adroit Journal, Radar Poetry, Barrow Street Journal, and Killer Verse. You can learn more about her writing at

You can find Caitlin Thompson's poem "A Side of Sleep Deprivation" Issue 298 Winter 2024. Order the issue now:

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