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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?

Pierce:
Let’s think about this. What does Pound imply with that expression? Another question suggests itself here: make what new? Writers do not create out of thin air – there is no poetic tabula rasa. There is always something, or somethings making the process of creative expression possible. In Pound’s case, to take one famous example from his career, he hijacked haiku and made that new. It’s odd – you don’t find a very robust acknowledgment of Pound’s use of the haiku in discussions concerning Imagism. People use “In a Station of the Metro” as an example of haiku, maybe. The moment of translation is often lost – it fades out of view. The poem is not even haiku, strictly speaking, so we might inquire as to what was retained and what was left out. We can explore the forms and voices that haunt poetry – even very new poetry. We can witness the ways in which poets make decisions about what to retain and what to discard in creative work. To my mind (and my mind is at least half American) it doesn’t matter how fresh and crispy you are – you’re starting from somewhere. You have roots. It’s unavoidable. As writers, we are located. Most writers read too. Do Americans interpret Pound’s expression as a license to ignore poetic ghosts altogether? I can’t answer this. It’s likely I’ve been abroad for too long. But we might remember that Pound, along with most of the formalist poets of the 20th century, was obsessed with a range of traditions. These poets simply added dangerous new ingredients to old styles and poetic principles. Sometimes they burned the evidence of their inheritances, but that doesn’t mean the inheritances aren’t there – you find pieces of pottery and old door knobs scattered about.

The US and the UK have overlapping inheritances. Their poetic pasts converge in many places. There are noticeable differences too. The legacy in the States seems to always smuggle in Whitman and his motley crew, Ginsberg and the Beat Generation, Hart Crane, and so on. In the UK these poets are not often invited into the parlour, and if they are, they’re sometimes treated as curiosities or marginalia. That alters UK poetry as a corpus, if it’s even advisable to look at UK poetry that way. I’m not sure I would say the UK is “more conscious” of its poetic past, however. It depends on who you ask. Certainly the past is altered by a slightly different line of interest on either side of the ocean – a different canonical disposition, perhaps. But even so I see the line as fuzzy in significant places.
 
Engaging with a wide variety of poetic inheritances is supremely pleasurable. I like to have everybody come in for weekly singalong sessions. Admittedly, this makes the chorus a little slapdash. My second tenor has a priestly rasp, and I’m fairly certain my metric systems are more informed by hip hop than by pentameter. I sing monstrously at times. Maybe there are too many voices. The best voice is very quiet – shy. I suppose the challenge I face now is to find this quieter voice a nice spot to dream and to clear some of the others out before they wreck the place.

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

Pierce:
Everything seems a little shifty right now. Nobody I talk to about poetry is quite satisfied, but all of them point their fingers in different directions: poetry is too exclusive. Poetry is too aimless. Too many hipster coteries. Too much of the old prose. Too little of the new media. Everything's too ironic. Poets sometimes write really compelling poetry when they’re fed up with their own milieu, so I feel generally positive about this current state of affairs. Frustration bodes well for poetry. Every generation asks “Is Poetry Dead?” and shortly thereafter every generation reaffirms that this is an absurd question. I think whatever comes next will be a kind of new romanticism – not necessarily in form, but in spirit. I see that happening already. There are many poets here who focus their attentions on nature, or explore the more sensual elements of human experience. The gothic features of romanticism are also making an appearance now. When it comes to the history of literature, I’m a bit of a soft Hegelian, or maybe a less cranky version of Vico. I think if you suppress a poetic or literary impulse for long enough, it will come gushing out again in another generation’s work. I think this generation is learning to be romantic again. 

Transom:
We noticed in your revision process with “Variation on a Morning Task” an impulse toward clarity of scene. Could you talk about what your guiding principles were in revising this poem?

Pierce:
I would say that my revision process is lengthy and painful; I’m an editor’s worst nightmare. In fact I’ll probably ask you to edit this after it’s been published. Here are some guiding principles: 1) Try to give direct access (try to evoke the precise feeling). 2) Use a combination of short and broad strokes in the diction. 3) Seek out the subtler musical elements. 4) Avoid redundancy. 5) Allow the poem to experience its own surprise.

The first point is essential. I never know whether the poem will be felt, which is terrifying. This is the main reason I don’t publish often. I imagine it is a problem many poets face in their own dark corners of the universe.