Getting To Know Aly Pierce & Her New Book, The Visible Planets

Everyone comes to writing from different places — how did you first encounter poetry? Did you have an ‘a-ha!’ sort of moment where you realized you wanted to be/already were a poet, or was it more gradual?

I first encountered poetry in elementary school in fifth grade and I did have an “a-ha” moment with it. It was a foreign language I was finding for the first time, but it felt like I already knew the rhythm. We were doing a lesson where we had to write poems of our own, and I loved how I could use a refrain, almost like a song, but have the meaning enhance along the way. I wrote a poem for a stray dog my best friend and I had found in our neighborhood. I’ve been involved, sometimes more actively than others, in writing poems ever since.

Do you have a writing routine? A favorite time or place to write?

Right now, I’m writing mostly in a recliner that used to be my mother’s, and usually in the mornings on the days I don’t go into work. But it changes depending on the project. I wrote a lot of The Visible Planets at Atomic Cafe in Beverly. There’s a really awesome table that’s tucked away in a corner and that’s probably my favorite place to write that I frequented during that project. If we’re talking of all time? Then the Haymarket in Northampton, the table under the stairs. If you know, then you know.

As indicated in the title, this collection utilizes a lot of space imagery & science, sometimes in quite technical terms. Did you ever find it difficult to marry the science with the poetry, or worry that the meaning of the poems might be reduced if someone wasn’t familiar with the concepts you were talking about?

For me, I was approaching all of this material as a poet, not as an astrophysicist, so mostly my journey through each poem was one searching for greater understanding of the science. I’m not worried about someone not understanding the poems because I hope I am able to bring the reader with me on that journey. And that’s not to say that all the science is perfectly communicated or understood! So I actually live in some amount of fear of someone understanding the concepts too much and saying, well, actually…

A lot of writers I talk to speak on the ways that their own writing surprises them, in that pieces will go in directions they didn’t intend, but they’re ultimately happy with the end result. Do you have any stories of a poem “getting away from you”, so to speak?

The first one that comes to mind is the poem I wrote after the Chaos Theory. I was sitting at my kitchen table in my old apartment and my roommate’s boyfriend was kind of lurking around. Normally I can’t write if people are lurking too much because it clouds my focus, but I wrote that poem all in one big lump. If you read it, you’ll see it really goes off the rails by the end, and I had that overwhelming feeling all through me while I was writing it. I read it to him immediately after I wrote it because I wanted to give away some of that energy.

You also are involved with the music scene, and work with the record label Deathwish; how heavily influenced is your writing by the music in your life?

Oh boy, incredibly. It’s not as evident in The Visible Planets, because that project was very focused, but in all my other writing, there is consistently music threaded throughout. I find myself wanting to build on ideas that I come across in music. Many times I’ve been caught up in trying to write a poem about what happens in my brain during a certain moment in a song, where it takes me emotionally or what eras of my life it taps into.

If your book was at a punk show, which part of the room would it stand in? Towards the back (sipping PBR nonchalantly, of course), in the center of the pit, or somewhere else?

I love this question. I feel like if The Visible Planets were attending a show, first of all, it would probably be like a nerdy punk show. Like the band that booked the school cafeteria or something, and it would probably be trying to act cool at the beginning, but then would end up doing math sitting on the floor in the corner.

Sample poem from The Visible Planets:

Henri Poincare’s Chaos Theory

This article is telling me what planet trajectories
have in common with circadian rhythms & I’m trying
to listen to the numbers about the fractal, determined
nature of the ellipses our bodies wobble in space-time.
The same math can tell us why some people rest
fitfully while others slip under & stop breathing.
Each of us rocking ever more strange circles & how
we rotate is all here, I just need to read it. 

Math can tell me exactly when & how
but the instrument of calculation: the human
brain & all of its creations are imprecise,
too rudimentary, too rounded to yield correct
answers. Instead, I can draw small ripples
around certain kinds of cancer, vibrations
of violent crashes, little rings around revolvers.
I can draw three bodies in the sand & say maybe. 

The chaos theory is that our strings of numbers
will never be long enough. The answer exists,
it’s reverberating in space right now, but we
will never know enough to see it still. 

We could know which cell, we could know
why infection, we could know how old,
which second, we could know the first moment,
the last moment, the space of time in between.
It’s just that we’re not big enough calculators,
so all we see are revolving scribbles on a screen,
ghosts wobbling in the sunroom, three cars
rolling through fog, me sleeping in a chair
in the waiting room at thirteen & at twenty-four,
the film skipping, blue eyes, blue eyes, a mouth-
ful of M&Ms, a mouthful of glass.

Purchase The Visible Planets

Aly Pierce lives in Beverly, MA where she drinks coffee & mails you records from Deathwish Inc. Her debut full length The Visible Planets is available now from Game Over Books. You can find her on Twitter & Instagram as @instantweekend.