M A R A L E E G R A Y S O N
i n t e r v i e w
COMP: Thank you so much for allowing us to publish “I’ve come to California.” It’s an exquisite poem. We’re fascinated by the talking spider whose presence holds together, web-like, the speaker’s opening and closing questions. How did the spider enter this poem? Why does it speak?
Mara Lee Grayson: I’m thinking of my creative writing students, who often ask me about inspiration. Writing theory tells us that inspiration doesn’t just appear, that we have to create conditions for whatever feels like inspiration to thrive, but experience tells us that those processes aren’t always happening consciously. So I’ll answer this in two parts, thinking first about what the spider does and then how it got there. I really appreciate your framing of the spider as a sort of frame itself, holding the poem’s work and shape, which is what the spider as an image, as a device, is doing. So, from one perspective, the spider weaves and catches: Weaves stories; catches memories, images, maybe even the ghosts that follow us. As far as how it got here, I think I can provide a far more practical, practice-oriented answer: I was sitting on my sofa with my notebook when a spider crawled in through the open door to the balcony, so I jotted down something about a spider. Later in the day, it somehow made its way into a poem I was trying to write, which turned into this poem. I tried it out and, because of what a spider is and does, it felt like it fit, and I’m so pleased that it resonated with readers. But it was observation, not inspiration, that introduced the spider to the poem.
COMP: In the penultimate stanza, the speaker addresses their father’s ghost as “Professor.” That’s a smart, moving decision. Why did this address feel right to you?
Mara Lee Grayson: The speaker wants to learn how to adapt and how to grieve. It felt to me that the speaker was asking the father to be both parent and teacher in this moment. I drew on the memory of my own father quite a bit here, especially in that address. But if the speaker has anything in common with me, then the speaker is also a professor, so maybe she has to turn inward for answers too.