Brittle Bones a rewrite of Maggie Smith’s “Good Bones”

Brittle Bones

By Rachel Windsor


Life is short, though I hide this from my consciousness

Life is shortening, they’ve shortened mine

In a thousand deceitful, horrendous ways,

A thousand deceitful, horrendous ways

I’ll pretend to not hear. The world is at LEAST

Ninety percent terrible, and That’s a conservative

Estimate, though I keep this from myself.

For every health fish there is a piece of plastic imbedded in a fish.

For every healthy elderly person, an elderly person plagued by illness, bagged,

In the earth before their time. Life is short and the world

Is at least one tenth good, and for every ethical organic

Business, there is one that would feed from your consumerism

While slowly killing you, Though I hide this from my consciousness. I am trying to

Earn this world. Any decent employee in this economy

Walking a new employee through a burning building, ignores

The building’s brittle bones: This place could be beautiful,

Right? I won’t stop trying to make this place beautiful.





I’m proud of this poem. I felt angry writing it. I can imagine that was Maggie Smith’s feeling while writing “Good Bones,” the predecessor and inspiration for my version. I write from my experiences and feelings because the words flow much easier. I find myself not truly paying attention to the details of how a poem is written until I try to create my own version of the same poem. I think it’s just how my brain is wired. I must process line by line to understand the structure of the poem, style of writing, and the tools used. If I don’t, I feel like I miss substantive information. Smith seems to advocate for a style of writing that is fueled by personal experience and encourages reflection and interpretation. I feel like you can both appreciate a poem’s form and identify a message or meaning independently. We have frequently discussed the problem of trying to understand what a poem means and falling into the intentional fallacy trap which makes us believe we know what the poet intended in their use of language and in their stylistic and formal choices. I think that binary way of thinking is restrictive and not productive, because by saying you can’t interpret meaning in a poem, or you cannot look at a poem and understand it for what it is without taking something meaningful from its substance, you are in fact saying that one way is better. Maybe it is but preventing people from studying poetry in either manner in an educational setting is inherently destructive. These ideas shouldn’t be mutually exclusive.

Smith used repetition frequently, but the poem itself was mostly free verse. There was no traditional form in the meter of the poem and there is not rhyme scheme. Her poetry is reminiscent of language poets to me, because of her play with words and the cyclical nature of her poetic form. I had difficulty staying to the form of Smith’s poem, because I felt that I needed more space for my ideas and feelings, but I maintained the repeated phrasing and the cyclical themes. I didn’t limit my language usage to the number of syllables used by Smith, for example. The first two lines of Smith’s poem contain a repeated phrase that is carried throughout the poem, “life is Short” This repeated phrase, I think, enhances the poem. It gives the feeling of cycles in reference to the shortened cycle of life and death. I liked it, so I kept it in my version. Instead, I used “life is short” and “life is shortening” to provoke dystopian context. It’s similarly dark in context to Smith’s, but I feel like I concluded with less pessimism-or maybe misguided/forged optimism. I particularly enjoyed Smith’s manipulation of the phrase “good bones.” This subtext is something I feel is lacking in the poem I wrote. Smith’s entire poem is written around the phrase “good bones” used to describe a home’s foundations. No one says, “brittle bones”, and if they did say it there would be no context of foundation to the said phrase. I liked brittle, because I wanted to say that our population is ageing, and our capitalistic culture is killing people sooner that they should be dying under natural circumstances. This is happening, and a vast majority of people are aware that it is happening, but people continue to live their lives blissfully ignorant because they don’t keep up with the news or they choose not to think about it, because it isn’t something they can change themselves. I, myself am both in different ways. Smith’s poem is more about human nature than the current state of things as they are. It seems like she is aware of the irony of birthing children to “change the world” in the same world where terrible things can happen to children. That is my understanding of the poem.

Note: This is a post for Week 10, not week 9.

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