Sunday, January 06, 2013

A.R. Ammons in Chicago Review

In a review of Garbage in The New York Times Book Review, Ed Hirsch wrote that Ammons “consistently demonstrated the democratic precept that ‘anything is poetry.’” 

It’s been a fundamentally important example for me, but also, an unacknowledged (at least an under-acknowledged) influence on a lot of poets. 

This has been on my mind a lot lately, as I’m reading through the excellent Ammons issue of Chicago Review (57:1/2).  It really should be considered a book, rather than a special issue, as it’s adding a lot to the study of Ammons.  Along with several good essays, it also contains many uncollected poems, as well as a never before published interview from the early 70s:

For more information. 

As Joel Calahan & Michael Hansen write in the introduction:

"A. R. Ammons’ s canonization by major academic critics during the
70s and 80s has been a mixed blessing. He resisted affiliation with
movements and manifestoes, and this has meant that his poems are
typically read through transhistorical frames these early champions
provided: he is a “nature poet, ” a transcendentalist, and so on. Ammons’
s innovations and astonishing range tend to get short shrift,
as does his close (if idiosyncratic) relation to contemporary poetics
and art practice. This issue aims to contextualize his position in the
postwar American tradition and to broaden the critical terms around
his work."

Is it just me, or has the work of A.R. Ammons kind of dropped out of the conversation since his death?  It wouldn’t have thought that would be the case.  Take a poem like Garbage (one of my favorites, and one that gets an essay in the Chicago Review special issue).  It really is (as is the much earlier Tape for the Turn of the Year, which graces the CR cover [above]) a radical conversational form, one that deflates “Poetry” in a meat-grinder of propulsive force.  Well, here I am, sounding like a blurb.  But anyway, take this section of Garbage, please.  It’s a gift.  If you’ve not read Ammons (or Ammons in long-form), then hopefully this will get you started.  I suggest Garbage, but GLARE and Tape for the Turn of the Year are also excellent.  There’s something found here that’s not found many places in poetry.  It’s a shame we don’t talk about this stuff more. 


garbage has to be the poem of our time because
garbage is spiritual, believable enough

to get our attention, getting in the way, piling
up, stinking, turning brooks brownish and

creamy white: what else deflects us from the
error of our illusionary ways, not a temptation

to trashlessness, that is too far off, and,
anyway, unimaginable, unrealistic: I’m a

hole puncher or hole plugger: stick a finger
in the dame (dam, damn, dike), hold back the issue

of creativity’s flood, the forthcoming, futuristic,
the origins feeding trash: down by I-95 in

Florida where flatland’s ocean- and gulf-flat,
mounds of disposal rise (for if you dug

something up to make room for something to put
in, what about the something dug up, as with graves:)

the garbage trucks crawl as if in obeisance,
as if up ziggurats toward the high places gulls

and garbage keep alive, offerings to the gods
of garbage, of retribution, of realistic

expectation, the deities of unpleasant
necessities: refined, young earthworms,

drowned up in macadam pools by spring rains, moisten
out white in a day or so and, round spots,

look like sputum or creamy-rich, broken-up cold
clams: if this is not the best poem of the

century, can it be about the worst poem of the
century: it comes, at least, toward the end,

so a long tracing of bad stuff can swell
under its measure: but there on the heights

a small smoke wafts the sacrificial bounty
day and night to layer the sky brown, shut us

in as into a lidded kettle, the everlasting
flame these acres-deep of tendance keep: a

free offering of a crippled plastic chair:
a played-out sports outfit: a hill-myna

print stained with jelly: how to write this
poem, should it be short, a small popping of

duplexes, or long, hunting wide, coming home
late, losing the trail and recovering it:

should it act itself out, illustrations,
examples, colors, clothes or intensify

reductively into statement, bones any corpus
would do to surround, or should it be nothing

at all unless it finds itself: the poem,
which is about the pre-socratic idea of the

dispositional axis from stone to wind, wind
to stone (with my elaborations, if any)

is complete before it begins, so I needn’t
myself hurry into brevity, though a weary reader

might briefly be done: the axis will be clear
enough daubed here and there with a little ink

or fined out into every shade and form of its
revelation: this is a scientific poem,

asserting that nature models values, that we
have invented little (copied), reflections of

possibilities already here, this where we came
to and how we came: a priestly director behind the

black-chuffing dozer leans the gleanings and
reads the birds, millions of loners circling

a common height, alighting to the meaty streaks
and puffy muffins (puffins?): there is a mound,

too, in the poet’s mind dead language is hauled
off to and burned down on, the energy held and

shaped into new turns and clusters, the mind
strengthened by what it strengthens: for

where but in the very asshole of comedown is
redemption: as where but brought low, where

but in the grief of failure, loss, error do we
discern the savage afflictions that turn us around:

where but in the arrangements love crawls us
through, not a thing left in our self-display

unhumiliated, do we find the sweet seed of
new routes: but we are natural: nature, not

we, gave rise to us: we are not, though, though
natural, divorced from higher, finer configurations:

tissues and holograms of energy circulate in
us and seek and find representations of themselves

outside us, so that we can participate in
celebrations high and know reaches of feeling

and sight and thought that penetrate (really
penetrate) far, far beyond these our wet cells,

right on up past our stories, the planets, moons,
and other bodies locally to the other end of

the pole where matter’s forms diffuse and
energy loses all means to express itself except

as spirit, there, oh, yes, in the abiding where
mind but nothing else abides, the eternal,

until it turns into another pear or sunfish,
that momentary glint in the fisheye having

been there so long, coming and going, it’s
eternity’s glint: it all wraps back round,

into and out of form, palpable and impalpable,
and in one phase, the one of grief and love,

we know the other, where everlastingness comes to
sway, okay and smooth: the heaven we mostly

want, though, is this jet-hoveled hell back,
heaven’s daunting asshole: one must write and

rewrite till one writes it right: if I’m in
touch, she said, then I’ve got an edge: what

the hell kind of talk is that: I can’t believe
I’m merely an old person: whose mother is dead,

whose father is gone and many of whose
friends and associates have wended away to the

ground, which is only heavy wind, or to ashes,
a lighter breeze: but it was all quite frankly

to be expected and not looked forward to: even
old trees, I remember some of them, where they

used to stand: pictures taken by some of them:
and old dogs, specially on imperial black one,

quad dogs with their hierarchies (another archie)
one succeeding another, the barking and romping

sliding away like slides from a projector: what
were they then that are what they are now:


At 1/07/2013 12:52 PM, Blogger Justin Evans said...

I have Ammon's Tape for the Turn of the New Year. I like it quite a bit, but I can't ever see myself using more than a nod or two in any high school English class I teach.


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