The Well Speaks of Its Own Poison

"The Well Speaks of Its Own Poison" book cover

Published April 1, 2015

Winner of the 2012 Dorset Prize, selected by Kimiko Hahn
Gold Medal Winner, Poetry, 2016 Independent Publisher Book Awards

Delving into the depths of fairy tales to transform the daily into encounters with the marvelous but dangerous, Maggie Smith’s poems question whether the realms of imagination and story can possibly be safe. Even as her compressed stories are unfolding on a suburban cul de sac, they are deep in the mythical woods, “where children, despite their commonness, / are a delicacy.”

 Raves & Reviews

“Maggie Smith’s collection is magical and troubling.… Time alternates between the forest where there are refrigerator magnets and safety belts, and The Forest where you, a now-human you, once preened ‘your blue-black wings.’… Time stops for violence and passion. Be intrigued. Find yourself welcome.”
— Kimiko Hahn

“Some kind of primary mythic world lies behind and throughout these adult tales of ultimate matters.… as much about the terrible and beautiful dreams of children as it is about waking up as a parent. This is a rare book of poems.”
— Stanley Plumly

“Enchantment: that rarest of all poetic gifts. As when the neurons, in the kaleidoscopic movie they call a “functional MRI,” speak to us in colors on a screen from the deepest recesses of what we already know. Maggie Smith’s are poems of transformation: haunting, gorgeous, intimately unsettling. I cannot remember when I last read a book to match her powers of delight.”
— Linda Gregerson

“Folk tales and their eerie, animistic wisdom are a wellspring for these powerful lyrics. The poems are ethereal and dark, brimming with dread, beauty, and rapture. The Bloody Chamber, Angela Carter’s arresting prose engagement with fairy tales, comes to mind. Smith updates motifs of the pacts children make with nature, the power of luck and curses, loss of innocence, the vulnerable and the sinister, primal fears of being eaten, and much more. The images are so fresh and inventive they shimmer. Original, cautionary, rich, delicious, The Well Speaks…is a spellbinding collection.”
— Amy Gerstler

“These poems acknowledge that the well may be poisoned, but it is a deep well, and it has given itself the power of speech. It can warn us. In that warning, given freely to “Babes in the Wood,”—all of us children who will be lost to darkness and death, Smith unearths the deepest moral from these tales: that we can face the truth (“The trees turned dark and took me with them”), speak it to one another, and through some mystical, magical, enchanted gift, still survive.”
The Kenyon Review

“Her clear and precise imagery is reminiscent of Elizabeth Bishop and, shockingly, she tries to communicate important ideas to readers—including nonacademic readers. She exchanges postmodern snark for sincerity and wry wit….In recent decades we have produced almost no “public poets”—poets of the genius of Robert Frost and Edna St. Vincent Millay, poets whose work displays both the depth to interest academics and the accessibility to interest the general public. With her refreshing love of language and ideas, Maggie Smith is one of our best bets to fill that void.”
— Claremont Review of Books

“Maggie Smith’s second full-length collection is a both a warning and an enchantment….These poems are studded with images we recognize from fairytales, offering iconic color in the forest gloom: wolves, foxes, deer, skinned rabbits, apples, hearts, white bones. Through Smith’s imaginative leaps, a kind of sorcery occurs, the lines shape-shifting quickly and musically.”
The Rumpus

“…if you offer Smith sunshine, the light then “plays xylophone / on the lawn.” Give her sparrows, and you have “tiny machines” printing messages on the air. The world around conforms to her limitless imagination.”
Heavy Feather Review

“Smith establishes a clear dichotomy, playing these two sets of poems against one another until they become two wholly separate worlds. And yet the barrier between the two worlds is not impenetrable….Even in the world of mailboxes and cul-de-sacs, danger still exists.”
Connotation Press


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