“Running Around With a Butterfly Net”: An Interview With Maria Gray, ‘23


Maria Gray ‘23 is a poet from Portland, Oregon studying creative writing at Bates. (Maria Gray/Contributed Photo)

Imagine being six years old and having poetry workshops with an award-winning poet. This was life for Maria Gray, ‘23.

Gray recounted that her first exposure to poetry came through her elementary school, which she described as a “crunchy, off-brand Montessori or Waldorf school in Portland, Oregon.” Poetry and music were major parts of the experience.

The principal of her elementary school was friends with Naomi Shihab Nye, a celebrated poet and children’s writer. Gray remembers Nye coming to her class and writing poems about windmills, which she still has.

For Gray, as is the case for many writers, teachers have been influential in keeping her on the path of writing. “What a lot of kids really need is an adult in their life who’s just like, ‘Keep going. Keep doing that thing,’ and I was very fortunate to have that.”

However, Gray arrived at Bates with no plans to major in English, but rather psychology. This plan quickly unraveled: Her first-year seminar, Shaking It Out: Writing Personal Narratives, was taught by Lecturer in English Jessica Anthony and introduced her to writing in college.

Likewise, her favorite classes at Bates thus far include the poetry workshops she’s taken with Lecturer in English Myron Hardy. Every workshop environment depends on the people in it, and she loves seeing how they change and how the veins everyone writes in vary from space to space. Gray also appreciates how it is a great way to find a community of writers who you can take work to and get feedback other than just, “It’s good!” which is not all that helpful.

“I feel like I did come in [to college] knowing [I would major in English] on some level,” she shared, adding that it took her a while to realize the true place writing had in her life. “I don’t think I knew how important it was to me when I was younger … I’d just always had my ‘thing.’ I’ve sort of had to grow into understanding that writing was a very core part of myself and not just something that I was good at in high school.”

Gray received honors from the Oregon Poetry Association and Portland State University prior to arriving at Bates. She spent the summer in between high school and college as part of the Adroit Journal’s summer mentorship program. The program paired her with poet Gabrielle Bates, with whom she corresponded to discuss readings and writing poetry. It was her first true exposure to the fact that poetry could be a sustainable career.

She’s also served as a writing fellow for the Counterclock Arts Collective, which pairs writers, musicians and visual artists in trios to create work inspired by similar themes. She described it as almost like Exquisite Corpses, a popular game for aspiring creative writers where stories are assembled one sentence at a time, with each writer only able to see the previous writer’s sentence.

Gray’s work comes from very personal places. For her, politics is somewhat of a fascination, stemming mostly from the fact that the personal is political — much as she hates the cliche — as is the body and interactions with the “medical-industrial complex.”

Though it took her a while to commit, she now regularly keeps a notebook where she can jot down bits of inspiration, whether it’s a headline, an image or something else. She described her search for inspiration as “like running around with a butterfly net.”

This year, Gray serves as one of the co-editors for Bates’s literary magazine, Snaggletooth (which is accepting editor applications and work submissions through Oct. 15). Her poem “Where Were You When Mac Miller Died” was included in their virtual issue released on their website this past May. The poem has been named a semifinalist in this year’s Adriot Prizes. She’s also been featured in Counterclock Journal, The Foundationalist, Perhappened Magazine and Hominum Journal. To check out her work or follow her Patreon, head to mariagray.carrd.co.