• Academics
English Teacher Maggie Ray Publishes Poetry Book

English teacher Maggie Ray has published her first, full-length collection of poetry, “Good Grief, the Ground,” available at your local bookstore, bookshop.org, or amazon.com. Ray is the winner of the Third Coast Poetry Prize and her “Superstitions of the Mid-Atlantic” received a 2020 Chapbook Fellowship from the Poetry Society of America. Her work has been widely published in journals across the U.S.

How did you select the title for the book?

The title is part of a line in the book’s second poem, but I landed on it because ideas about “grief” and “ground” show up in poems all across the book.  It had been (and continues to be) a period of years heavy with various kinds of grief as I was writing these poems.  The ground is Florida, my home ground, and also New Jersey, my adoptive home, and also the general ground on which we all live out most of our lives (when we’re not in airplanes or tall buildings or bodies of water).  One reviewer noted that yes, “Good grief!” is Charlie Brown’s exclamation when things are going off the rails.  I love that echo (and yes, grew up on a lot of “Peanuts”), because of the humor it’s possible to find when things go really wrong sometimes. Some of these poems have what I hope comes off as a deadpan kind of humor –I like poems that can also be funny.

How would you describe the collection?

It’s a book about youth, about adulthood, about grief, about love, about the dilemma of whether or not to have children, about America… Some of the poems try on different voices or moods (anger, regret, gratitude, love, anxiety…)

You have such a busy schedule – how do you find time to write poetry?

I write at night, on weekends, in the summer, when I travel, when I’m home…any time can be a time for writing if you can create the conditions.  I wrote them over a series of years; that’s how long it takes a book of poems to come together…writing individual poems, then seeing how they fit together, then writing into the gaps as it started to feel like a book. 

I’ve also been very lucky and grateful to be supported by Lawrenceville’s professional development funding while I got my MFA while teaching a few years ago (Warren Wilson is a low-residency MFA program, which meant I did most of the work of writing both creatively and critically while teaching here).

Do you have a favorite time of day or place to do your creative work?

My brain tends to turn creative at night, so I try to complete my less creative tasks during the daylight hours to clear the decks for writing.  I like writing first drafts in public places sometimes–cafes, coffee shops. But I also have a desk I love. 

How did it feel to have your work lauded by Stephanie Burt, who wrote the Foreword?

It feels incredible to be read by a poet and critic like Burt, to have her see my project and write so beautifully in her introduction about these poems.  Just the highest honor. 

When did you start writing poetry?

It will sound cheesy, but I started writing poems when I was in elementary school, largely because the school I went to did a lot of poetry with us at that age.  I remember loving how poems could be much stranger than stories seemed to me.  I don’t remember a time in my life without poetry, honestly.

Who are some of your favorite poets? Do you feel that any of them have influenced your own work?

I especially try to write towards poets like Paige Lewis, Natalie Shapero, Monica Youn, Diane Seuss, Vievee Francis, Matthew Olzmann, Gabrielle Calvocoressi, Jennifer Chang, Ross Gay, Aracelis Girmay, Louise Glück, Brigit Pegeen Kelly, Dorianne Laux, Ada Limón, Frank O’Hara, John Ashbury, Mary Ruefle …

Do you share your work with your students? If so, what is that experience like?

I don’t tend to. I trust that they can stumble on it on their own if they’re curious and start googling around. I feel like my job as a teacher is mostly to get out of the way and let them be center stage, so that drives a lot of what I do.  I do sometimes talk with them about my writing processes, the varieties of the writing process, etc. And at some point in the past I would occasionally share a draft of an old poem with them, just to show them that how things start doesn’t have to be how they end up.  I haven’t done that recently though maybe I should…

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

For students (or anyone) working on their writing: don’t let that secret project you’re working on in the background of a notes app die!  Keep it somewhere where you’ll come back to it over and over.  And read things you like. The biggest engine of my ability to write is whether or not I’m doing a lot of reading at the same time. 

For additional information, contact Lisa M. Gillard H'17, director of public relations, at lgillard@lawrenceville.org.