A R Ammons

The often anthologized "Corson's Inlet" is probably Ammons's most characteristic poem. The opening lines describe setting out for a walk over the landscape of dunes in south-east New Jersey that give the poem its title. The subsequent lines and stanzas, varying in length and in position on the page, parallel the varied encounters that fill the journey and - equally important - the variety of responses within the poet. Boundaries disappear, and thought is made concrete:

the walk liberating, I was released from forms, from the perpendiculars straight lines, blocks, boxes, binds of thought into the hues, shadings, rises, flowing bends and blends of sight:

The poem's flux and process is held together by the poet's responsiveness: "the possibility of rule as the sum of rulelessness: / the 'field' of action / with moving, incalculable center:" and form is not imposed upon the poem or the surroundings:

no arranged terror: no forcing of image, plan, or thought:

no propaganda, no humbling of reality to precept:

terror pervades but is not arranged, all possibilities of escape open: no route shut, except in the sudden loss of all routes:

I see narrow orders, limited tightness, but will not run to that easy victory:

As these examples illustrate, the colon is a favorite mark of punctuation for Ammons to signify these balanced relationships. In another characteristic poem, "The City Limits," the boundlessness is, as with the meditative walk across the dunes, immediately associated with the mind's response. The poem begins:

When you consider the radiance, that it does not withhold itself but pours its abundance without selection into every nook and cranny not overhung or hidden; when you consider

Ammons is the author of five long poems. The first of these, Tape for the Turn of the Year (1965) he typed onto a roll of adding machine tape, in part as an exercise in responding to the physical demands of such a restricted space. Sphere: The Form of a Motion (1974) consists of 155 sections each of four three-line stanzas, the whole organized around the central image of earth as viewed from outer space. The whole poem is one continuous sentence. The other book-length poems are The Snow Poems (1977), Garbage (1993) - which won Ammons his second National Book Award, following that for his Collected Poems: 1951-1971 in 1973 - and Glare (1997). Ammons's occasional prose appears in Set in Motion: Essays, Interviews, and Dialogues (1996). Ammons retired from Cornell in 1998, and he died in Ithaca on February 25, 2001, of cancer.

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