AAK: Why did you decide to become a poet?
Marge Piercy: You don't "decide to be a poet." You begin writing poetry and it feels like
the only way to deal with things, to make sense of them, it feels right to
be doing it. It takes you to a clear place that you want to return to. So
you write more poems.
AAK: Is there a particular poet who influenced your work?
MP: I was formed from the progenitors of American prosody, Emily Dickinson and
Walt Whitman. But the daily news and the horrors and joys of our time have
influenced me as much as any other poet has. Poetry doesn't "improve" or
advance as science does. Sappho wrote as good poems as we may aspire to.
What is the most significant source of inspiration for your poetry?
MP: Poetry is made new again and again, like birth, like love, like resistance,
like death, like spring. But we are creatures of our culture and we live
inside our language, which is both instrument and fate.
AAK: What is the biggest mistake novice poets make?
MP: The biggest mistake that novice poets make is exactly the same as the
biggest mistake novice fiction writers make: not being willing to read, and
read widely. Often you find writers who want to read "how to" books--usually by people who are not themselves good poets or good fiction writers.
I would not care to have surgery performed on me by a doctor who had read a
book called "the surgeon's life." There is real craft involved in poetry
and you go to poets to learn it. And you learn to concentrate, which is the
single most important skill for a poet.
AAK: What is the strangest reason you've ever had for
writing a poem?
MP: Poetry is an ancient habit of our species, as is the telling of stories.
They are not impulses that are about to go away. Probably we will know when
computers become truly sentient when they begin to produce art on their own
AAK: What are the uses for poetry? How does it enhance our lives?
MP: Poems give form and utterance to our experiences, our insights, our
adventures and misadventures. To find ourselves spoken for in art gives
dignity to our pain, our anger, our lust, our losses. We can hear what we
hope for and what we most fear, in the small release of cadenced utterance.
People take the poems into their lives and say them to each other and put
them up on the bathroom wall or the refrigerator or over their computer or
on their office door. They use them to say they're sorry or in love or hurt
or leaving. They read them at burials and funerals, they say them at
weddings. People use some of my poems in religious services. Some have been
read at rallies and some have been used by unions in their programming. Some
have been sewn into quilts or worked into posters or other forms of graphic
art. I am pleased when people find the poems speak for them. Once I have
finished working on a poem, it is yours as much as mine.
Visit Marge Piercy's Web site: http://www.capecod.net/~tmpiercy/