April: A. R. Ammons

Archie Randolph Ammons / entries tagged with A. R. Ammons

the origins of this project

While I was familiar with A. R. Ammons, having read and posted a few of his poems already on this site, I had never felt compelled to spend concentrated time with his work until I was reminded of his poem, Corsons Inlet, while reading Elizabeth Bishop’s The End of March on 30 march 2023.

Here’s what I wrote on that day”

In the article I read skimmed, the author puts Bishops’ poem into conversation with Wallace Stevens, specifically his poem, “The Sun this March” but also other poems of his. I kept thinking about it in relation to A. R. Ammons’ “Corsons Inlet”, another walk poem by the sea. 


Their different perspectives on how a walk, and the world by the sea that they move through, inspire them and their writing is fascinating to me. Bishops is narrow and restraining and finished?, while Ammons is all over the place and almost too free, too formless. And, it’s alive, new, continuously renewed day after day. 

I’ve wanted to study A.R. Ammons poetry for a few years now. I think finding the Bishop poem, then being reminded of Ammons, is the nudge I need to make this a mini-project! I’ll end March/begin April with Ammons!

A. R. Ammons: Poetry

Individual Poems

Collections Read

Articles about Ammons

Articles by Ammons

some thoughts on reading Ammons

While I waited for Ammons’ garbage to arrive in the mail, I enjoyed reading some of his other poems, especially his very short ones — little did I know what a contrast these pithy poems would be to the meandering, wandering, word dumping of garbage. I liked garbage, most of it, at least. I became lost near the end and haven’t yet finished the final sections.

The meandering/word dumping is the point; this long poem is intended to be an experience not easily summarized. And, it’s about the experience, and not the documenting of that experience with words. Ammons has a strained/troubled relationship with words. Words are useful and the stuff of poetry, but words are what remains after the magic of moment/meaning/poetry is over.

on starting Ammons’ book:

Starting a poem like this, or maybe any poem, involves a moment of mild panic — what the hell is he talking about? I don’t understand! — then a deep breath and a belief that something will make some sort of sense if I just keep going. One foot in front of the other, step by step, bird by bird, word by word. In the case of section 2, it took a lot of words to find a way in, two whole pages of them. 

I read about garbage as the poem of our time, then trash in Florida, then a question about how to write the poem. Finally, at the top of page 20, I found a phrase that I wanted to look up: “the poem/is about the pre-socratic idea of the/dispositional axis from stone to wind, wind/to stone” I think I was compelled to look it up because I took a class on the pre-Socratics almost 30 years ago in college and I wanted to remember what I had forgotten. As I understand it, Ammons is referring to the pre-socratic foundational belief (sloppy shorthand for dispositional axis) in material monism, or that everything can be reduced to one element. Water (Thales), limitlessness (Anaximander), Air (Anaximenes). For Ammons, it’s garbage. Is this right? Some of my research for this comes from Wikipedia, almost none of it from my memory of that Intro to Philosophy class with a wonderful adjunct professor (Corinne Bedecarre) who referred to animals as critters. 

Anyway, looking up this line and thinking about garbage as the single element, encouraged me to slow down and wonder about more of Ammons’ words. I started writing in the margins, wandering in more directions with my thoughts. Thinking about Mary Oliver’s eternity, Elizabeth Bishop’s fish eye, and humility as not the same as humiliation (unlike Ammons, it seems).

some ideas/words to remember

  • wind moving through the trees, making the leaves shake and shimmer: glittering wind
  • grass, from Grassy Sound:
    The wind came as grassy sound 
    and between its
    grassy teeth
    spoke words said with grass
  • a new word: macadam, aggregate road surface, compacted stone held together with a binder, like asphalt or concrete…not mixed in. Or, tar, as in tarmac. The line that inspired my search of this word: “young earthworms/drowned up in macadam pools” instead of potholes filled with water, macadam pools. I might have to use that with asphalt.
  • his description of the baked potato: 2 white steaming cakes oozing butter (or sour cream)
  • on the end of existence and the twinkling of stars —
    when existence recalls with relief that existence
    ends, that our windy houses crack their frames
    and spill, that nothing, not even cold killing bothers
    the stars: twinkle twinkle: just a wonder

some thoughts on words

one: words vs. other forms of language

our language is something to write home about:

but is not the world: grooming does for
baboons most of what words do for us.

two: section 12, the beginning:

a waste of words, a flattened-down, smoothed-
over mesa of styrofoam verbiage; since words were

introduced here things have gone poorly for the 
planet: it’s been between words and rivers, 

three: section 12, the middle:

we must have the biggest machine, 

fifty miles round, find the smallest particles, 
and the ditchwork of the deepest degradation

reflects waters brighter than common ground:
poetry to no purpose! all this garbage! all

these words:

four: section 12, the end:

imagine, though we think

ourselves purposeless, we may be the thinnest
cross-section of an upcoming announcement, and

though we cannot imagine what the purpose might
be, even now it may be extruding itself, tiny

threads of weak energy fields, right through
us: first an earth in peace; then, hundreds of

years looking for other wars: strife and peace,
love and grief, departure and return: gliding

we’ll kick the l out of world and cuddle
up with the avenues and byways of the word:

some thoughts on/ definitions of poetry

one: from Poetics

I look for the forms
things want to come as

from what black wells of possibility,
how a thing will

not the shape on paper — though
that, too — but the
uninterfering means on paper:

not so much looking for the shape
as being available
to any shape that may be
summoning itself
through me
from the self not mine but ours.

two: from section 7

one thinks, slapping down the lines, making time
with eternity, one will thrive beyond the brink but

beyond the brink is no recollection but a wide 
giving way into silver that filters farther away

into nothing

three: from section 8

when I learned
about poetry, I must have recognized a means

to command silence in them, the means so to
combine thinking and feeling, imagination and

movement as to spell them out of speech:
people would buy the enchantment and get the

point reason couldn’t, the point delivered below
the level of argument, straight into the fat

of feeling (55-56)

four: at the end of section 11 (73):

I don’t
care whether anybody believes me or not: I

don’t know anything I want anybody to believe or
in: but if you will sit with me in the light

of speech, I will sit with you: I would rather
do this than eat your ice cream

five: section 13

whirlwind, not human, I’m the whirlwind: the
creaking hills, not human, my silence cracks and

creaks: the flow of clouds not mine, my
motions trained clear by clouds: and the 

streams’ yielding bending fathers my winding:
and the semicircles’ gusts before storms make

grassclumps draw in the sand—these are the
going closures that organize mind, allowing

and limiting, my mind’s ways: the rabbit’s
leaps and halts, listenings, are prosody of

a poem floating around the mind’s brush: I
mix my motions in with the mix of motions, all

motions cousins, conveyors, purveyors, surveyors, 
rising from the land, eddying coils of wash, 

bristling with fine-backed black clarity as with
brookripples over stone, spreading out, evaporating

or seeping in under, soaking, salt flats, the
turkey buzzard whirling, the wind whirling, 

the giant “stills” of the sea and I, and sand, 
whirling, stalling, breaking out, getting on, 

coming round—cousins, not silent, either,
communicative, but not with human sound, 

communicative motions making sounds, much mutual
glistening in a breezy grove of spring aspen speech

from section 17:

poetry is itself like an installation at Marine

Shale: It reaches down into the dead pit
and cool oil of stale recognition and words and

brings up hauls of stringy gook which it arrays
with light and strings with shiny syllables and

gets the mind back into vital relationship with
communication channels: but, of course there

is some untransformed material, namely the poem
itself; the minute its transmutations end, it

becomes a relic sometimes only generations or
acts of countrywide generations can degrade:

a real stick in the fluencies: a leftover light
that hinders the light stream: poems themselves

processing, revitalizing so much dead material
become a dead-material concentrate time’s

longest actions sometimes can’t dissolve: not
to worry: the universe is expected to return

and the heat concentrate then will ashen wispy poetry
wispier: actually, the planet is going to
be fine, as soon as the people get off:

some examples of poetic (instead of “ordinary”) writing

one: dead/decomposing worms in a puddle after the rain: 

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

some suggestions for future explorations

one: Ammons and Mary Oliver on ordinary time and eternity

His discussion of eternity and the other “heaven we mostly/want, though, is this jet-hoveled hell back,/heaven’s daunting asshole,” reminds me of Mary Oliver and her distinction between ordinary and eternal time. Much of his connection between ordinary/garbage time and writing poetry reminds me of Mary Oliver’s The Leaf and the Cloud. I’d like to read them together.

two: Ammons on humiliation beside Ross Gay on entanglement

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

This morning, reading through my post for april 8, 2022, I was reminded of dirt and decomposition and a Ross Gay interview where he describes our entanglement (interconnectedness/dependence) with the world and the decomposition of the self, not as a loss, or a humiliation, but a recognition of our connections and dependence on each other. Humility in terms of vulnerability and openness instead of just humiliation and weakness.

Reading these lines again, I’m also reminded of CAConrad’s “Ignition Chronicles” and the idea that it is not grief/loss/despair that enables new routes, but how that grief disrupts our routines and forces us to focus. The key is focus not despair. So, we don’t need grief, or in the case of Ammons humiliation/breaking down, for new routes. We need focus, which maybe is another word for attention here?

three: motion, peripheral vision

scientific and materialistic notion of the 
spindle of energy: when energy is gross,

rocklike, it resembles the gross, and when 
fine it mists away into mystical refinements, 

sometimes passes right out of material
recognizability and becomes, what?, motion,

spirit, all forms translate into energy, as at
the bottom of Dante’s hell all motion is

translated into form: so, in value systems, 
physical systems, artistic systems, always this

same disposition from the heavy to the light, 
and then the returns form the light downward

to the staid gross: stone to wind, wind to
stone, there is no need for “outside,” hegemonic

derivations of value: nothing need be invented
or imposed: the aesthetic, scentific, moral

are organized like a muff along this spindle, 
might as well relax: thus, the job done, the

mind having found its way through and marked
out the course, the intellect can be put by:

one can turn to tongue, crotch, boob, navel, 
armpit, rock, slit, roseate rearend

I’m thinking about the relationship between mind, body, and spirit here, and then where I see motion fitting in. The idea of motion as spirit is interesting to me. Because I rely on peripheral vision, I’ve been thinking a lot about motion (which is detected in your peripheral). In terms of motion, I’m also thinking about my restlessness and my inability to sit still for too long, especially at night. Waking up every few hours to move around before going back to sleep. And I’m thinking about motion is relation to color, especially with my study of the ancient greeks and their ideas about color and the idea of “the glitter effect” (See The Sea Was Never Blue).

not a conclusion

(from log entry on 28 April) Just tried to finish the last section of garbage. I’ll have to try again on some other day — or never? So difficult to keep my eyes on the page, my mind on his meandering words. Maybe instead of finishing the book, I’ll return to some things in it that I find particularly interesting, like (the following are all phrases or paraphrases from sections of garbage)

Energy and motion. The spindle of energy, motion as spirit, all forms translated into energy: value systems, physical systems, artistic systems, from the heavy (stone) to the light (wind) and back again. Loops, returns, the constant recycling of stone to wind to stone, waste into something new then returning to waste, using words to find a moment of the eternal, losing it again, the words becoming waste to break down and rebuild. Always motion, flow, decomposing, returning. Always behind it all, the relief of indifferent stars: twinkle, twinkle: just a wonder. And old people dying, bodies falling apart, individual existence ending. All of it happening, whether we believe in or not. All of us motion: a whirlwind becoming gross body, all navel and nipple and knee, then vaporized, refined, distilled into a place not meaning yet or never to mean.