Maggie Smith on Molly Spencer
When I first read "Interior with a Woman Peeling Oranges, Snapping Beans," I was reminded of something James Tate once wrote: "What we want from poetry is to be moved, to be moved from where we now stand. We don't just want to have our ideas or emotions confirmed. Or if we do, then we turn to lesser poems, poems that tell you killing children is bad, chopping down the rainforest is bad, dying is sad. A good poet would agree with all of those sentiments, but would also strive for an understanding beyond those givens." This poet does just that, masterfully reworking the images of the oranges ("flesh broken" and "as big as a baby's head!") and beans ("how can I not/ think of finger bones"), and crafting stanzas and lines that enact the brokenness at the heart of the poem. The power of the poem is how it grapples not only with the horrors of Aleppo but also with the complexities of watching those horrors happen "on a small screen," knowing that:
Awful things keep happening
everywhere but not to me.
What is the speaker's—and our responsibility? "Interior with a Woman Peeling Oranges, Snapping Beans," reminds us of our shared humanity, yes, but it doesn't use a flattering filter. It implicates the speaker—her "unearned tears"—and by extension, all of us. This is a poem I need in these strange, fraught (and always-televised) times.