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October 28th, 1996 92nd St. Y From the Academy Audio Archive

About this poet

Archie Randolph Ammons was born outside Whiteville, North Carolina, on February 18, 1926. He started writing poetry aboard a U. S. Navy destroyer escort in the South Pacific. After completing service in World War II, he attended Wake Forest University and the University of California at Berkeley.

He went on to work as an elementary school principal, a real estate salesman, an editor, and an executive in his father's biological glass company before he began teaching at Cornell University in 1964.

Ammons published his first book of poems, Ommateum: With Doxology, in 1955. He went on to publish nearly thirty collections, including Bosh and Flapdoodle (W. W. Norton, 2005); Glare (1997); Garbage (1993), which won the National Book Award and the Library of Congress's Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry; A Coast of Trees (1981), which received the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry; Sphere (1974), which received the Bollingen Prize; and Collected Poems 1951-1971 (1972), which won the National Book Award.

About Ammons, the poet Richard Howard has said, "Ammons is our Lucretius, swerving and sideswiping his way into the nature of things, through domestic doldrums, cardinals and quince bushes, fields of sidereal force, out into what he so accurately calls 'joy's surviving radiance.'"

His honors included the Academy's Wallace Stevens Award, the Poetry Society of America's Robert Frost Medal, the Ruth Lilly Prize, and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

He lived in Ithaca, New York, where he was Goldwin Smith Professor of Poetry at Cornell University until his retirement in 1998. Ammons died on February 25, 2001.


Selected Bibliography

Poetry

Ommateum: With Doxology (1955)
Expressions of Sea Level (1964)
Corsons Inlet (1965)
Tape for the Turn of the Year (1965)
Northfield Poems (1966)
Selected Poems (1968)
Uplands (1970)
Briefings: Poems Small and Easy (1971)
Collected Poems: 1951-1971 (1972)
Sphere: The Form of a Motion (1974)
Diversifications (1975)
Highgate Road (1977)
The Selected Poems: 1951-1977 (1977)
The Snow Poems (1977)
Selected Longer Poems (1980)
A Coast of Trees (1981)
Worldly Hopes (1982)
Lake Effect Country (1983)
The Selected Poems: Expanded Edition (1986)
Sumerian Vistas (1987)
The Really Short Poems (1991)
Garbage (1993)
The North Carolina Poems (1994)
Brink Road (1996)
Glare (1997)
Bosh and Flapdoodle (2005)
A. R. Ammons: Selected Poems (American Poets Project, 2006)

Prose

Set in Motion: Essays, Interviews, and Dialogues (1996)


Multimedia

From the Image Archive

 

Still

A. R. Ammons, 1926 - 2001
I said I will find what is lowly
and put the roots of my identity
down there:
each day I'll wake up
and find the lowly nearby,
a handy focus and reminder,
a ready measure of my significance,
the voice by which I would be heard,
the wills, the kinds of selfishness
I could
freely adopt as my own:

but though I have looked everywhere,
I can find nothing
to give myself to:
everything is

magnificent with existence, is in 
surfeit of glory:
nothing is diminished,
nothing has been diminished for me:

I said what is more lowly than the grass:
ah, underneath,
a ground-crust of dry-burnt moss:
I looked at it closely
and said this can be my habitat: but
nestling in I
found
below the brown exterior
green mechanisms beyond the intellect
awaiting resurrection in rain: so I got up

and ran saying there is nothing lowly in the universe:
I found a beggar:
he had stumps for legs: nobody was paying
him any attention: everybody went on by:
I nestled in and found his life:
there, love shook his body like a devastation:
I said
though I have looked everywhere
I can find nothing lowly
in the universe:

I whirled through transfigurations up and down,
transfigurations of size and shape and place:

at one sudden point came still,
stood in wonder:
moss, beggar, weed, tick, pine, self, magnificent
with being!

From The Selected Poems: 1951-1977, Expanded Edition, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. Copyright © 1986 by A. R. Ammons.

From The Selected Poems: 1951-1977, Expanded Edition, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. Copyright © 1986 by A. R. Ammons.

A. R. Ammons

A. R. Ammons

Archie Randolph Ammons was born outside Whiteville, North Carolina, on February 18,

by this poet

poem
Fall fell:  so that's it for the leaf poetry:
some flurries have whitened the edges of roads

and lawns: time for that, the snow stuff: &
turkeys and old St. Nick: where am I going to

find something to write about I haven't already
written away: I will have to stop short, look

down, look up, look close,
poem

I've pressed so
far away from
my desire that

if you asked
me what I
want I would,

accepting the harmonious
completion of the
drift, say annihilation,

probably.

poem
The people of my time are passing away: my
wife is baking for a funeral, a 60-year-old who

died suddenly, when the phone rings, and it's
Ruth we care so much about in intensive care:

it was once weddings that came so thick and
fast, and then, first babies, such a hullabaloo:

now, it's this that and the other