Maya Janson

Describing herself as a poet who looks “inward and outward at the same time,” Maya Janson’s poetry makes “the final day in a year of sweetness” just as visible and immediate as “pride of lions yellow.” In Janson’s poems, the reader is often asked to approach the world from several angles at once; past, present, exterior and interior are all points of entry. Within a single poem, we may return through time to our younger selves with a first love and speed forward through our accumulated knowledge and our peregrinations to a future with our children. Location is equally fluid in her poetry—Janson takes us from Paris and Northampton to our planet to a lover’s gaze. As she puts it, the core of her work has to do with “being stationary and concentrated and mobile and expansive.” In Janson’s work and writing process, the observation and understanding of the exterior world is a dedicated route to the internal depths of experience: “what I know is there’s a relationship between the inside and outside of writing,” she said in a 2013 interview with Orion, “[t]he place I sit—kitchen table or crumbling steps of Victorian-era building or booth carved with names—and the place I walk. Inside: candle burning to a stub, tea going cold in the cup. Outside: ruins, spring ephemera, a riverbank testament to rise and fall, flux.”

Janson’s debut collection, Murmur & Crush (2012), was praised, by David Rivard, as “total acceptance of the as-is world.” Janson puts it best in the poem “Possibly Cello,” where she writes “[l]ikewise I’ve come to believe/in the unbidden, the not-searched-for—and today,/all that is innermost wants out.” The poems of Murmur & Crush make our interior states both tactile and visible—what Eleanor Wilner describes as “embodying through visible things the turbulent cross-currents of the interior world.” Our inner flux is made just as transparent as the world changing around us—in Janson’s words, “sometimes we’re incandescent, /sometimes our filaments are embarrassingly/visible.” 

Janson’s poetry has appeared in The New Yorker, Rattle, Lyric, Guernica, Alaska Quarterly Review, Jubilat, and other journals, as well as Best American Poetry. A graduate of Smith College and Ada Comstock Scholar ’87, she also holds an MFA from Warren Wilson College and has been a recipient of an artist fellowship from the Massachusetts Cultural Council. She lives in Florence, Massachusetts and is employed as a community health nurse and a lecturer in poetry at Smith.

Poetry Center Reading:

Fall 2017 (with Mary A. Koncel & Andrea Stone)

Sky Stays the Same

Coincidentally, the same summer the gazelles jumped
the fence at the ecotarium most of my married friends
were having affairs. We think we can
but we cannot contain the heart.
We continue to give it our best shot
like the nurse saying roll up your sleeve. 
The inoculation is planted but there is no cure
for the who you are and what you want.
Now even my mother seems to have forgotten
the early years when she held me by a window
as it snowed and three deer came out of the woods
to stand blinking and pawing: the way I do
before the mural painted on the building downtown,
Sojourner Truth marching with clouds,
the clouds anonymous in their lab coats.
It’s always the same sky, it’s just the weather
and the seasons that keep changing.
In spring I dust the pollen from my hands, 
then the maples along the river begin to smolder
in their red coronas. Dry days.
I’ve got an unquenchable thirst and can’t sleep
because there’s such a whirring of wings.
Such thievery in the orchard, so many
boxes of fruit hoisted over the back gate
long after the workers have climbed down
from their ladders, the smoke from their tobacco
lingering long after they’ve gone home for the day.

From MURMUR & CRUSH (Hedgerow Books, 2012)

A History of Regret

I think I know what Tolstoy was getting at
leading the couple into the woods,
walking them deeper and deeper in,
the woman kneeling, parting fallen leaves
to get to the white dome of the mushroom,
the hidden and exquisite cap.
But it’s been so long since I read the book.
So long since I’ve seen wilderness
on the side of the road or sitting across from me
with its elbows on the table,
I resort to making it up. How far must I go
before I can explicate the forest?
How many days without your hands
sifting through my hair before I dream them?
I didn’t mean to leave you stranded
at the bus stop in the rain without an umbrella.
Likewise, the overdose was unintentional.
The flood, I regret the flood and the irreparable
damage to the carpets. Your cats I hope survived.
We survive, move on, but leave something 
essential behind, caught on a branch
like fur from the tail of a wild dog.
They say this was once a beautiful boulevard.
Stately elms, overlapping canopy.
Before that it was a cart road
where families walked on Sundays,
babies and concertinas on their hips,
paring knives in wicker baskets and somehow
they knew which mushrooms to cut,
which ones to leave untouched.

From MURMUR & CRUSH (Hedgerow Books, 2012)

In Case of Rapture

Beneath the Cape’s solid arm there’s more water.
Inside magma, magma.
Everything in some way dwelling within something else.
Somehow Buttercup as endearment
has entered the slipstream of language. Somewhere
the assembled fearful are pitching their small tents,
making ready for the coming of The Lord.
Inside the lumpy mattress, coils.
Outside the Truro window, wisteria and oak.
Catbird nagging, saying you, yes you.
Last night I had the smallest dream. No horsemen wrathful
just an old pony with splayed blonde bangs I brushed
aside. Like always, I wake up thinking about time.
Memory has it that a hand, probably my father’s,
fastened my first sunny Timex onto my wrist.
Then gently wound it. Memory allows me
one Bach cantata which I’ll whistle later as I sweep.
Why is it I best remember the first and last notes
when what I want is without beginning or end?
Even now I do not believe it.
In the time that remains let me confess.
Once I stole a woman’s cashmere coat.
Once my boyfriend and I broke into an empty summer
cottage. I lifted the window and let him enter first.
In a big bed in a small room we found a way but forgot
to fashion a return. When he left me
I knew what the scientists meant by hollow collapse
of stars. The deepest part of the ocean they call the lightless,
the abyssal plain. In another dream I went house to house
checking every door. Big sound of nothing.
Along the whole stretch of beach not a soul was home.
That, or they were home but couldn’t hear me.
They were home but couldn’t bring themselves to answer.

From MURMUR & CRUSH (Hedgerow Books, 2012)