|A. R. Ammons|
Ammons in 1998
February 18, 1926|
near Whiteville, North Carolina
|Died||February 25, 2001
Ithaca, New York
|Occupation||poet, columnist, essayist|
|Education||Wake Forest University
University of California, Berkeley
I am grateful for – though I can't keep up with – the flood of articles, theses, and textbooks that mean to share insight concerning the nature of poetry.
Definition, rationality, and structure are ways of seeing, but they become prisons when they blank out other ways of seeing.
I take the walk to be the externalization of an interior seeking so that the analogy is first of all between the external and the internal.
If we ask a vague question, such as, 'What is poetry?' we expect a vague answer, such as, 'Poetry is the music of words,' or 'Poetry is the linguistic correction of disorder.'
I must stress here the point that I appreciate clarity, order, meaning, structure, rationality: they are necessary to whatever provisional stability we have, and they can be the agents of gradual and successful change.
For though we often need to be restored to the small, concrete, limited, and certain, we as often need to be reminded of the large, vague, unlimited, unknown.
You have your identity when you find out, not what you can keep your mind on, but what you can't keep your mind off.
Each poem in becoming generates the laws by which it is generated: extensions of the laws to other poems never completely take.
That's a wonderful change that's taken place, and so most poetry today is published, if not directly by the person, certainly by the enterprise of the poet himself, working with his friends.
If a poem is each time new, then it is necessarily an act of discovery, a chance taken, a chance that may lead to fulfillment or disaster.
If the greatest god is the stillness all the motions add up to, then we must ineluctably be included.
The poet exposes himself to the risk. All that has been said about poetry, all that he has learned about poetry, is only a partial assurance.
Probably all the attention to poetry results in some value, though the attention is more often directed to lesser than to greater values.
Even if you walk exactly the same route each time – as with a sonnet – the events along the route cannot be imagined to be the same from day to day, as the poet's health, sight, his anticipations, moods, fears, thoughts cannot be the same.
Is it not careless to become too local when there are four hundred billion stars in our galaxy alone.
A poem generated by its own laws may be unrealized and bad in terms of so-called objective principles of taste, judgement, deduction.
Poetry leads us to the unstructured sources of our beings, to the unknown, and returns us to our rational, structured selves refreshed.
I can't tell you where a poem comes from, what it is, or what it is for: nor can any other man. The reason I can't tell you is that the purpose of a poem is to go past telling, to be recognised by burning.
There's something to be said in favor of working in isolation in the real world.
Besides the actual reading in class of many poems, I would suggest you do two things: first, while teaching everything you can and keeping free of it, teach that poetry is a mode of discourse that differs from logical exposition.
Once every five hundred years or so, a summary statement about poetry comes along that we can't imagine ourselves living without.