Archie Randolph Ammons

(18 February 1926 – 25 February 2001 / Whiteville, North Carolina)

Biography of Archie Randolph Ammons

Archie Randolph Ammons poet

Archie Randolph Ammons was an American poet. He wrote about humanity's relationship to nature in alternately comic and solemn tones.

Life

Ammons grew up on a tobacco farm near Whiteville, North Carolina, in the southeastern part of the state. He served in the U.S. Navy during World War II, stationed on board the U.S.S. Gunason, a battleship escort. After the war, Ammons attended Wake Forest University, majoring in biology.Graduating in 1949, he served as a principal and teacher at Hattaras Elementary School later that year and also married Phyllis Plumbo. He received an M.A. in English from the University of California, Berkeley.

In 1964, Ammons joined the faculty of Cornell University, eventually becoming Goldwin Smith Professor of English and Poet in Residence. He retired from Cornell in 1998.

Ammons had been a longtime resident of Northfield, New Jersey, and Millville, New Jersey, when he wrote Corsons Inlet in 1962.

Awards

During the five decades of his poetic career, Ammons was the recipient of many awards and citations. Among his major honors are two National Book Awards (in 1973, for Collected Poems 1951-1971, and 1993, for Garbage); the Wallace Stevens Award from the Academy of American Poets (1998); and a MacArthur Fellowship in 1981, the year the award was established. Ammons also had a school in Miami, Florida, named after him.

Ammons's other awards include a 1981 National Book Critics Circle Award for A Coast of Trees; a 1993 Library of Congress Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry for Garbage; the 1971 Bollingen Prize for Sphere; the Poetry Society of America's Robert Frost Medal; the Ruth Lilly Prize; and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1978.

Poetic Style

Ammons often writes in two- or three-line stanzas. Poet David Lehman notes a resemblance between Ammons's terza libre (unrhymed three-line stanzas) and the terza rima of Shelley's "Ode to the West Wind." Lines are strongly enjambed. Some of Ammons's poems are very short, one or two lines only, while others (for example, the book-length poems Sphere and Tape for the Turn of the Year) are hundreds of lines long, and sometimes composed on adding machine tape or other continuous strips of paper. His National Book Award-winning volume Garbage is a long poem consisting of "a single extended sentence, divided into eighteen sections, arranged in couplets".

Many readers and critics have noted Ammons's idiosyncratic approach to punctuation. Lehman has written that Ammons "bears out T.S. Eliot's observation that poetry is a 'system of punctuation'." Instead of periods, some poems end with an ellipsis; others have no terminal punctuation at all. The colon is an Ammons "signature"; he uses it "as an all-purpose punctuation mark."

The colon permits him to stress the linkage between clauses and to postpone closure indefinitely.... When I asked Archie about his use of colons, he said that when he started writing poetry, he couldn't write if he thought "it was going to be important," so he wrote "on the back of used mimeographed paper my wife brought home, and I used small [lowercase] letters and colons, which were democratic, and meant that there would be something before and after [every phrase] and the writing would be a kind of continuous stream."

According to critic Stephen Burt, in many poems Ammons combines three types of diction:

A “normal” range of language for poetry, including the standard English of educated conversation and the slightly rarer words we expect to see in literature (“vast,” “summon,” “universal”).

A demotic register, including the folk-speech of eastern North Carolina, where he grew up (“dibbles”), and broader American chatter unexpected in serious poems (“blip”).

The Greek- and Latin-derived phraseology of the natural sciences (“millimeter,” “information of actions / summarized”), especially geology, physics, and cybernetics.

Such a mixture is nearly unique, Burt says; these three modes are "almost never found together outside his poems".

As far as topics often addressed by Ammons, those of religious and philosophical concern are visited in his works as are many scenes involving nature, almost in a Transcendental fashion. According to Daniel Hoffman, who wrote a book review on Ammons, stated that his work "is founded on an implied Emersonian division of experience into Nature and the Soul," adding that it "sometimes consciously echo[es] familiar lines from Emerson, Walt Whitman and [Emily] Dickinson.

Archie Randolph Ammons's Works:

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)
The Selected Poems: 1951-1977 (1977)
Highgate Road (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: Poems (2005)
Selected Poems (2006)

Prose

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

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PoemHunter.com Updates

Called Into Play

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

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