Apr 042008

I just finished reading A.R. Ammons’s delightful and important book-length poem Garbage, which won the 1993 National Book Award. I also gave a presentation and led a discussion on it here at the UA creative writing MFA program, for my “modern poetics and the environmental muse” course. (On a site note, read this excellent analysis of the poem to learn more both about the poem and about the waste-to-landfill process; it’s fascinating.)

I have before and I will again thank Miriam Marty Clark for introducing me to A.R. Ammons (specifically, his Selected Poems, Expanded Edition, published in 1987). That was probably 1989 or therabouts, when I was a sophomore or junior at Auburn University, when I first started writing poetry seriously. Miriam, who has been on the Terrain.org editorial board since I started the publication eleven years ago, taught an upper-level contemporary poetry course. She did her Ph.D. thesis on Ammons, so knew his work intimately.

In doing research for the presentation, I turned to another Ammons researcher, fellow Salmon poet Philip Fried, editor of The Manhattan Review. Turns out that Phil interviewed Archie for MR’s second issue, back in 1980. Phil was kind enough to send me that issue, collected deep from the dark confines of his closet. The interview, and Phil’s afterword, are astounding, and I’m delighted to report that he is going to let Terrain.org reprint the entire interview and afterword. It’ll be our feature interview in the winter/spring 2009 issue. The issue’s theme is “Symbiosis,” which if you know Ammons’s work is perfect.

A couple good poetry blogger friends had the opportunity to study under Ammons at Cornell: Gina Franco and Jake Adam York. I’d like to have long conversations with both of them about their experience. Some day I hope to. (I feel especially connected to Jake in this capacity because we both studied poetry under R.T. Smith while at Auburn University. Though, Gina has more more beautiful hair….)

An Ammons poem, then, to leave you on:

He Held Radical Light

He held radical light
as music in his skull: music
turned, as
over ridges immanences of evening light
rise, turned
back over the furrows of his brain
into the dark, shuddered,
shot out again
in long swaying swirls of sound:

reality had little weight in his transcendence
so he
had trouble keeping
his feet on the ground, was
terrified by that
and liked himself, and others, mostly
under roofs:
nevertheless, when the
light churned and changed

his head to music, nothing could keep him
off the mountains, his
head back, mouth working,
wrestling to say, to cut loose
from the high, unimaginable hook:
released, hidden from the stars, he ate,
burped, said he was like any one
of us: demanded he
was like any one of us.

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