Try Poetry: Chores + Maggie Burton

Maggie Burton discusses with us how she wrote her first poem when she was in Grade One and then came back to writing again later in life to explore her complicated feelings about her family. Today, Burton shares ‘Radio Bingo’ from her collection Chores (Breakwater Books Ltd.) for our Try Poetry series.


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Interview with Maggie Burton

ALU: When was the moment that you decided you wanted to write poetry? Describe it for our readers. Was it reading another poem? Was it listening to a poet read? Was it something different entirely?

Maggie Burton: I can’t remember writing my first poem, but I know it was composed when I was in first grade, as it’s dated in my diary. It was about being afraid of dogs barking, which I wrote after a failed sleepover at my friend Kim’s house. I kept up writing through the teen years, and frequently submitted poetry to local competitions to make some pocket money.

I started writing poetry in my diary again when my second child came along, mostly as a coping mechanism. I saw poetry as a safe way to help me explore complicated feelings about my family. The book of poetry I read during this period that had the most impact on me and my desire to write was Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals by Patricia Lockwood.

ALU: If you had to pitch your featured poem to someone who had never read poetry before, how would you do so? What kinds of things do you think the new-to-poetry reader might find fascinating about it? What could you share about the poem’s writing process?

Maggie Burton: “Radio Bingo” is a fun poem, full of movement and intrigue. It dabbles in opera, bringing forward some of the Greatest Hits of the repertoire in a short concert of sorts, which is a fun type of show to play when you’re an orchestral musician like I am. I encourage readers to listen to the arias and radio stations I reference, after which you may feel the wonderful sensation of “getting” just what it is I’m getting on with in this poem. My partner often talks about reading poetry slowly, in order to “get” a poem. I don’t read that way, I read it fast, over and over again. This piece dances off the page and wants you to feel and hear the words, almost as if you are sight-reading Don Giovanni while pretending to have practiced before the rehearsal…

“Radio Bingo” has one foot in the door of the art world and one in nan’s house out around the bay. I knew I wanted to write a few poems for Chores that would draw out the humour inherent in taking oneself too seriously, an affliction many of us here in Newfoundland & Labrador suffer from, myself included. I wrote it after playing Radio Bingo one night with a friend of mine. We won one of the games, after which I had a flash back of playing Bingo on the radio with my nans. As a child, I loved the suspense of not knowing if we’d win. Suspense is, of course, a major component of a good opera, as are the classic themes of cheating, lying, and swearing revenge that are prominent in this poem. So, essentially, I wrote my own short operatic libretto and called it “Radio Bingo”.

ALU: What’s a poetry collection or individual poem that you’d recommend to anyone looking to get into poetry?

Maggie Burton: I would recommend “At the Fishhouses” by Elizabeth Bishop for its accessible language, which makes the captivating images come alive for the reader.

‘Radio Bingo’

From Maggie Burton’s collection Chores

I sprawl on Nan’s bed, paint
my nails red, listen to VOWR’s
Hymns for the Quiet Hour, the greatest

opera of our time, a weekly
tragedia lirica where no one gets out
alive. I am the wardrobe supervisor.

The star I dress in slack-pants, blouse,
pastel cardigan, compression socks,
perm, knitted slippers, a billowy,

high-waisted dress. I put on her rings,
squish the spider veins attempting to nest
in soft skin. She changes the station

to the Voice of the Common Man
as the top of the hour news,
the overture, begins. Nan straightens

her wig, enters stage left.
Don Giovanni hides in the living
room corner, double-timing

whiskey and homebrew while Donna
Elvira flies around the stage:
“who will ever tell me where

that scoundrel is? Ah! Chi mi dice mai,
I will rip his heart out.” She takes
her seat at the kitchen table, stabs

the free spaces with her dabber.
Heavy with gossip, full of fresh smoke
from Player’s tub rollies, the air

is thick fresh bread. I hold my breath
as the first number is called.
Behind the radio’s tinny mouth,

the announcer is dressed
as Pagliaccio but no one can see
his beautiful face. The sad thought

of him crying into his double-double
kills me. Backstage, Nan does
her warmups, scolds my lazy lack

of makeup, pinching my baby fat,
again. I can bear it no more.
I rise as Norma, proclaim “blood,

blood! Revenge!” on all my relatives.
I chase her from the room,
my fingers down my throat.
The curtains draw. Lace hiding
nothing. Anyone could see us here,
struggling. Dido this time,

Nan laments, “remember me, but ah!
forget my fate” orders another smoke
be set ablaze, a pyre. I click the lighter.

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Originally from Brigus, Ktaqmkuk, Maggie Burton currently lives in St. John’s with her blended family, including four young children, a plethora of small animals, and her partner, Michael. Trained as a classical violinist, Maggie is a multi-disciplinary performer with a background in arts administration and music education. Maggie started writing poetry after having kids at the age of twenty. Currently, she dedicates her time to community-oriented work and writing. Her poems explore family, folklore, feminism, and sexuality.

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Thank you to Maggie Burton and Breakwater Books Ltd. for sharing ‘Radio Bingo’ with us. Remember, if you purchase a copy of Chores or any of the other featured Try Poetry collections, you’ll receive a free digital sampler containing all of our featured poems. (Purchase from All Lit Up or from your local independent bookseller; send proof of payment to if you purchase from your local!)