The Place Where I Write: Maya Smith Janson

Any attempt to speak to where I write becomes tangled-up with the when and how and why, the where of it existing as just one element in a formula that involves interiors and exteriors, a sort of psychic littoral zone that has to do with looking inward and outward at the same time. Has to do with being stationary and concentrated and mobile and expansive. Both parts equally important, the whole endeavor influenced by factors seasonal and situational and temperamental.

For example, this past January, in order to meet a commitment to write every day, I began rising before dawn and wrote until sunrise. This meant I had an hour or so before daylight and the stirring of my family signaled the end of the day’s early work. The assignment required that I develop a new routine. First rule: no houselights. I stoked the woodstove and boiled water in the dim light provided by my bicycle headlamp. Then, for reasons mostly romantic, I wrote in the small globe of light afforded by one candle, looking through the French doors out to the snowed-over yard.

Five a.m., but not really dark, the yard bright with snow and illuminated by what I came to think of as dual moons. The real one and a small, domesticated one in the form of a solar-powered paper lantern hung on an ornate iron crook in the dormant Budleja bed. The actual moon waned toward mid-month, then waxed to full by its end. It featured large in my writing. Every poem in some way moonie, moon-soaked. (Did I notice a small, brightening of mood in the lines on the page as the moon returned, fattened, taking up more space within the white pines as it drifted from east to west? I did.)

The moon set, the sun rose. My writing session was over. At least the sitting-at-table-watching-the-darkness-fail part was over. But the poem, or whatever it was the writing fragment was to be called, was not complete. The burgeoning thing needs air and a bigger view. Which often coincides handily with the dog, who needs his walk, and with my restlessness.

Where I write depends as much on the world outside my doorstep as what dwells inside. These days that includes a trail along the Mill River, in early spring the forest floor a carpet of trout lily, speckled leaves and yellow heads nodding, a few secret patches of Dutchmen’s breeches and purple trillium. Includes the grounds of the old State Hospital, the once so-called Asylum turned ghost town turned suburban development. Or, includes hipster coffee shop with found art and loud music by bands I’ve never heard of.

What I know is there’s a relationship between the inside and outside of writing. The 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.

Maya Smith Janson’s poems have appeared in The Massachusetts Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, Best American Poetry, and elsewhere. Her debut poetry collection, Murmur & Crush, was published in 2012. Her poem “When I Don’t Know What Kind of Bird I Am” appeared in the March/April 2013 issue of Orion.


  1. Reading this piece is like reading a poem–I love how we follow the poet’s path through her process, are invited to see, hear and touch the physical elements that shape her writing (the exterior)AND get a glimpse of the interior, her insight and her art.

  2. Kudos for your writing discipline! I need to start waking up earlier…

  3. Beautiful piece, thanks!
    I feel more alive reading it. Makes me want to read more.

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