Good Bones

A commissioning consortium for a new song cycle

Join us in this consortium to complete Good Bones: Six Songs for Treble Voice and Piano!

Score Delivery: November 2020

This six song cycle on poetry by Maggie Smith will explore themes of motherhood and coming of age in the modern world.

In 2017, I wrote the song “Good Bones” for mezzo-soprano Megan Ihnen, using Maggie Smith’s poem, which had gone viral when it was published a week after the Pulse Nightclub Massacre. I had known and loved Maggie’s work for a few years, and this poem in particular cried out for musical treatment. It’s a song I’m incredibly proud of, and Megan later included it in the NewMusicShelf Anthology of New Music: Mezzo-Soprano, Vol. 1, which she curated.

As soon as “Good Bones” was finished, we started dreaming up a larger work that would incorporate the song and build on its themes of motherhood and living in the 21st century, and we would like to share that experience with you.

In 2020, Megan Ihnen will lead this consortium to commission the five additional songs to complete the cycle (plus one standalone song TBD).

The music will be composed for treble voice – suitable for soprano or mezzo. The score will be delivered November 2020.

Commissioners will receive:

  • Two signed, printed copies of the score (one for you, one for your pianist)
  • Acknowledgement as a commissioner in the score, on, and in print materials about the cycle
  • Regular email updates about the composition of the cycle, with photos of sketches
  • Access to the cycle’s Development Diary, a real-time documentation of the creation of the song cycle
  • Premiere designation for your performance (with the option for local and regional premiere designations for scheduling early performances)
  • Promotion of your concert(s) on, and on Dennis’s social media accounts
  • Performance exclusivity for 12 months after delivery of the score

The cost to join the consortium is $125. Students may join for $75. (Payment plans are available)

The deadline to sign up is June 30, 2020!

At a Glance

What: Five new songs to complete a song cycle built around “Good Bones”, plus one additional standalone song, all on poetry by Maggie Smith. Each song will be excerptable.

Length: Each song will be between 2 and 5 minutes. In total, the cycle will be approximately 18 minutes long.

When: Sign up by June 30, 2020; score delivery in November 2020.

Cost: $125 per commissioner; $75 for students. (Payment plans are available)

How: Sign up here

The Texts

I sang tenor in the school choir
because the boys’ balls hadn’t

dropped, or their balls had but not
their voices. On the highest riser,

I wore an early draft of my breasts
and sang a row of notes

no other girl could reach down
and touch. I wondered how

the sopranos’ throats could pinch
round whole notes so thin,

they were near breaking
but didn’t break. It came down

to range, to the body suddenly
amplified. Parts of me cracked

and wavered, but not my voice.
I sang in the back of the choir

like a boy among boys.
I could go that low.

Published in TriQuarterly
Issue 151, Winter/Spring 2017

At Your Age, I Wore a Darkness

several sizes too big. It hung on me
like a mother’s dress. Even now,

as we speak, I am stitching
a darkness you’ll need to unravel,

unraveling another you’ll need
to restitch. What can I give you

that you can keep? Once you asked,
Does the sky stop? It doesn’t stop,

it just stops being one thing
and starts being another.

Sometimes we hold hands
and tip our heads way back

so the blue fills our whole field
of vision, so we feel like

we’re in it. We don’t stop,
we just stop being what we are

and start being what?
Where? What can I give you

to carry there? These shadows
of leaves—the lace in solace?

This soft, hand-me-down
darkness? What can I give you

that will be of use in your next life,
the one you will live without me?

Published in Good Bones from Tupelo Press

I’m Reconsidering Burial

because if I were lying
in that narrow twin bed

under the sod, you might be
tempted to lie down there

at night, the stone a cold
headboard, and look up

at the sky—moon, stars,
wisps of cloud, etcetera—

and feel you are falling
asleep on the top bunk

and I am still tucked in
below you, telling you

my secrets in the dark.

Published in Numéro Cinq Magazine, Vol. VIII, no. 7, July 2017

Night was a secret
we kept from the children.

They had never seen it except
in picture books: the sky
ombre, blue at the roofs

gone indigo gone plum
gone black at the margins.

Stars impossibly star-shaped.
The moon flat and round.

When after dark they pressed
their palms to our windows,
the children saw only themselves.

If they thought of their hands
as five-pointed, they never let on.

How many dimensions
did we owe them? One more
than we gave. The only depth

they knew was depth of color.
The only moon they knew,
a white hole in the wallpaper.

The only stars, sharp-fingered
and near enough to pick at it.

The children weren’t prepared
for the night they’d find, finally
stepping outside—the sky

wholly black, black root
to tip, the stars like freckles,
they marveled, no shape at all.

And the moon? The moon
was so new, it was missing.

Published in Good Bones from Tupelo Press

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.

When a tree is cut down, the sky’s like
finally, and rushes in.

Even when you trim tree,
the sky fills in before the branch

hits the ground. It colors the space blue
because now it can.

The Poet

Maggie Smith

Born in Columbus, Ohio, in 1977, Maggie Smith is the author of three books of poetry: Good Bones (Tupelo Press, 2017), named one of the Best Five Poetry Books of 2017 by the Washington Post and winner of the 2018 Independent Publisher Book Awards Gold Medal in Poetry; The Well Speaks of Its Own Poison (Tupelo Press, 2015), winner of the 2012 Dorset Prize and the 2016 Independent Publisher Book Awards Gold Medal in Poetry; and Lamp of the Body (Red Hen Press, 2005), winner of the 2003 Benjamin Saltman Award. Smith is also the author of three prizewinning chapbooks: Disasterology (Dream Horse Press, 2016); The List of Dangers (Kent State/Wick Poetry Series, 2010); and Nesting Dolls (Pudding House, 2005).

In 2016 Maggie Smith’s poem “Good Bones” went viral internationally, receiving coverage in the Washington Post, the Guardian, the Telegraph, Slate, Huffington Post Italia, and elsewhere. To date it has been translated into nearly a dozen languages; interpreted by a dance troupe in Chennai, India; and set to music by multiple composers. PRI (Public Radio International) called it “the official poem of 2016.” In 2017 the poem was featured on an episode of the CBS primetime drama Madam Secretary, also called “Good Bones,” and was read by Meryl Streep at Lincoln Center.

Smith holds a BA from Ohio Wesleyan University and an MFA from The Ohio State University. She has taught creative writing at Gettysburg College, Ohio Wesleyan University, in the MFA and undergraduate programs at The Ohio State University, and for the Antioch University Los Angeles Low-Residency MFA. After working for several years in trade book and educational publishing, she now works as a freelance writer and editor, and as an Editor at Large for the Kenyon Review. Smith recently joined the core MFA faculty of Spalding University’s School of Creative and Professional Writing.