Three Questions for Maya Janson

1. What is your personal/aesthetic relationship to the poetic line? That is, how do you understand it, use it, etc.

My relationship to the line is largely intuitive, which requires that I feel my way through the poem, trying to look and listen in order to know what’s called for. There often seems to be some secret (to me) mechanism at work in each poem, something that drives the way the line wants to be handled. I don’t know in advance what this is, nor how the poem will ultimately look on the page, so there’s a lot of messing around, trying out different line lengths and playing with enjambment, though too much of the latter and the poem begins to wobble. At the same time, I like to at least occasionally use the line as a sense-making unit, that is, breaking at a place that allows a natural phrase or an interesting cluster of words to stand alone, in order to be highlighted. Generally I find myself appreciating the orderliness that happens with a more unified line in each poem, enjoying the visual effect of lines that end more or less at the same point on the page.

2. Do you find a relationship between words and writing and the human body? Or between your writing and your body?

The sitting at a desk part of writing happens in short bursts. It’s not only restlessness that drives me outdoors but something akin to wanting to aerate the poem with the breath of the larger world. There’s something physical needed, sometimes in the initial generative part of any given piece and most especially in the revision process. There’s a power in putting one foot in front of the other while working the poem out in the head. I think this might have to do with finding the music of the lyric, using the body to pound out the sound patterns. There’s also the encounter with the worldly elements, being blown about or rained on, and other-worldly elements too, that brings a fullness beyond my one small life into the poem. Basho, the Japanese poet known for wandering, is said to have spoken of his walking and poem-making as conversations between a ‘ghost and a ghost-to-be’.  I too like to situate myself on that continuum.

3. Is there anything you dislike about being a poet?

By any measure, to live a life that allows me to write poetry marks me as one of the fortunate few. To have something that brings me joy and sorrow, in one small package—again, how lucky! Without poetry as a lens the world would be a little less colorful. And still, even after many years of doing it, I’m sometimes surprised to find myself writing poems and identifying myself as a poet. As a child I read only fiction and imagined growing up and writing stories. I didn’t begin reading poetry until I was in my early twenties, and then it was only because my best friend was a poet. Once I started writing poetry however, there was no going back. While there’s not much in the way of regret, there is much that is oddly quirky about the practice that places it outside mainstream ways of thinking/talking that sometimes, in certain circles, I feel reticent about claiming. This is especially true when it comes to sharing my poems with people who don’t read or write poetry, more so with those who confess to not liking or understanding poetry.  How to explain the weirdness of the poetic obsession? Mostly I don’t even try.
Maya Janson’s first book, Murmur & Crush, was published by Hedgerow Books. Her poems have appeared widely in literary journals and anthologies and she has received fellowships from MacDowell and the Massachusetts Cultural Council. She lives in Western Massachusetts where she has worked as a lecturer in creative writing at Smith College and as a community mental health nurse.Her newest book, “On The Mercy Me Planet” has just been published by Blue Edge Books.

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