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Viral poem propelled career of poet Maggie Smith

Sometimes fame comes when you least expect it.

It happened to poet Maggie Smith after "Good Bones" was published online in June 2016, the same week as a deadly nightclub shooting in Orlando and the assassination of an anti-Brexit leader in London.

Smith's 17 lines of poetry on the beauty and ugliness of the world, and how to protect children from the worst of it, touched a chord with people and quickly went viral. Ohio State University, where Smith earned an MFA and later taught, estimated nearly 1 million people saw it.

"It was insane, really the most surprising thing that has ever happened to me," Smith said in an interview from her home in Bexley, Ohio. "I still don't think I  have processed it."

The poem was even turned into a dance in Chennai, India.

"If I really think about how many people have heard it it blows my mind," Smith said. "I joke that the poem has traveled places I will never go."

A fluke of timing contributed to the poem's success.

"I wrote the poem in 2015, but that's the nature of publishing," she said. "It just sat there waiting for that publication cycle. I had no idea what would happen in the world the week they released that poem online.

"I read in news stories that the poem was in reaction to the shooting, but really it was written in about a half hour in a Starbucks in my town."

Smith, whose children were ages two and six at the time, was conveying a parent's anxiety.

"It was about how to raise kids and show them the beauty of the world without lying to them, and making the world out to be Disney," Smith said. "That's the trick -- I want to be honest, but I don't want to scare them."

Smith will visit Buffalo for the first time to headline the Silo City Reading Series at 7 p.m. Saturday in Silo City. Poet and playwright Annette Daniels Taylor, musician Bean Friend and dancers Nancy Hughes & Center Dance will also appear at the Just  Buffalo Literary Center event.

While "Good Bones" caught lightning in a bottle, Smith has been an accomplished and highly regarded poet for years. Her poems have appeared in Best American Poetry, the Paris Review, the New York Times and Ploughshares, and has earned numerous writing awards.

Smith's third book of poetry, also called "Good Bones" (Tupelo Press), is being published Oct. 1.

Although her schedule is packed with readings around the country, including California, Indiana, Arkansas and Mississippi, Smith said she always looks forward to returning to her native Ohio. She lives just minutes from the Columbus hospital where she, her mother and her children were born, and has never lived outside Franklin County.

"People talk about that in some idealized way like it's Mayberry, or else with scorn, like, 'Were you too afraid to leave, or didn't you have any opportunities?' " Smith said. "But I love this town, and Ohio has always been a character or backdrop in my work. I don't have that sense of missing a place because I've always had it."


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