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Transom:
American poets tend to take Pound’s dictum to “make it new” as a foundational principle, and as a result many of us have a short literary memory. The poetic culture in the UK seems far more conscious of the legacy of centuries of predecessors. What are the pleasures and challenges of contributing your voice to this chorus?

Evans:
I’ve been interested in ideas of poetic lineage, in particular the gendering of poetic “influence” or tradition, for a while now. I think American poets have a lot to say about literary memory. In terms of my own poetry, when I reflect on writing in relation to what has been written, it is two American poets whose words I find especially thought-provoking: first, Robert Duncan, who wrote in what is considered to be the “Poundian” line and who was conscious of the crucial “it” of Pound’s “make it new.” Duncan was very interested in European tradition and women’s importance within it. He often declared that he was not an “original poet.” His amusingly recycled statement in a printed dispute with Robin Blaser about translation in Audit/Poetry in 1967 was: “I am not, as I have perhaps tediously reiterated, ‘my own poet,’ but, like Nerval, I seek to find my Self in the terms of a confluence of traditions . . . .” Secondly, I take Dickinson’s “Tell all the truth but tell it slant” as a guide for poetic expression in general – so in this case, “truth” can refer to what you call inherited “literary memory” or Poetry. I find great pleasure in chorusing the work of others within a community of poetry, either through explicit allusion and word-choice, or by means of more encrypted aural cues and visual echoes. I do this not only in playful celebration of that poetry but also to query, and to think through the challenges of, the poetic culture in which I am taking part.

As a woman writing poetry, I have often felt affiliation with a more American poetic sense of the need to create a new literary tradition via reinvention: absorbing, rejecting and rethinking an inherited legacy. In my case, a considerable portion of this legacy is the male metaphysical, Romantic, twentieth-century and contemporary poets whose writing I was required to read (and often loved reading) at school. In the 1990s, my exam syllabuses were bereft of a single female poet. I am committed to what is still the very necessary communal endeavour to ensure greater awareness of and access to women’s writing. Also, I’ve been determined to write some of the formative male voices I mention into my poetry as an articulation of this reality and its problems, rather than to cite women poets only.

I’m not sure of an absolute division between UK and American poetic culture concerning literary memory and writing practices right now, in part due to contemporary UK poetry’s enjoyment of both homegrown and American innovation. There are shared legacies that further blur such a distinction, for instance the transnational interactions at the heart of the British Poetry Revival in the 1960s and 1970s and Anglo-American Modernism. My sense is that the mutual exchange involved in these movements is beginning to be more understood (“remembered”), which is something I find interesting in emerging ideas of UK poetic history. I do feel that UK poetry often takes the kind of literary memory you suggest for granted. I think that there are preoccupations with, and responsibilities to be, writing innovatively anywhere. 

Transom:
What’s happening now in the UK poetry scene that you find particularly exciting – or frustrating?

Evans:
I feel very lucky to be writing in London right now. Within the city, the wider, complex maps of the UK scenes have a strong presence. Their groups are often geographically defined and include Sussex, Cambridge, the North-East, Wales, connections to Paris, and others. These affiliations bring various priorities, mutual frustrations and occasional outright hostilities to the mix. There is also a lively habitat of myriad internal groupings particular to London. The more “mainstream” sections and the innovative scene are speaking to each other and collaborating in ways that feel potentially new. As a result, it’s an exciting time of increased permeability of (some of) the borders. I have found the pockets considered to be London’s “experimental” scene particularly welcoming and supportive for my own practice as a poet. We are also lucky to have a particularly rich (though impoverished) small press scene at the moment.

Looking beyond the poetry scene to poetry in society, I’m glad of emerging ideas regarding higher education institutions’ engagement with people outside of the university regarding the reading and writing of poetry. I think it’s an important goal in the face of increased tuition fees and severe financial cuts in the arts. It’s been satisfying being part of new out-reach writing projects and conference readings or seminars which are open to the public and free to attend.

Transom:
Both of your poems foreground the landscape as a site of meditative questioning or self-exploration for the speaker. How do you arrive at such landscapes for your poetry?

Evans:
The landscape in the opening of “Pointing Home” is based on a real place. I wrote the poem as I walked home under a strikingly bright, attention-grabbing sky across Oxford Circus. It takes a snapshot of the presence of small, domestic creatures (humans and animals) amid the giant, vertical shapes of an urban environment and the even larger world beyond it.

“When I Am Open as a Field” belongs to a group of morning poems that I wrote about people waking to loss. The landscape is imagined. It’s also partly borrowed. It became associated for me with lines from Duncan’s poem “Sonnet 4,” which I had been thinking of for a while. This process provided the possibility of reimagining a love poem within one of loss. Duncan’s “I would recognize him by the way he walks” and another line beginning “I would know . . .” become the lines “I would/ know him/ by the way/ he walks a/ way.”  Words of intimacy and faithful anticipation become a declaration of the certainty of absence and limitation, further emphasized in my play with words and gender in the closing pun on “bridle” and “bridal.” (My echo of Duncan isn’t a strict inversion, as it develops elements of doubt and elegy already in the original.) I suppose that the poem’s landscape offers the possibility that there can be more than the ritual of daily mourning. On the one hand, its spatial metaphors articulate painful distance, the mobility of leaving and the initial immobility of being left. On the other hand, they allow ideas of growth and natural forward movement (“ache to acre/age”). Despite the pain or humiliation involved in loss, the poem’s figurative landscape hints towards the instinct to risk both continued openness and poetic or other expression of this openness (the latter is introduced in the title’s echo of the language of “open field” composition, in which the poem is “field”). In this way, the landscape and the allusions in the title and poem were “arrived at” together.

I notice that both poems illustrate my attraction to words themselves (human sound, its etymologies and poetic traces) as what you call “sites of meditative questioning or self-exploration.”