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A R Ammons Biography | Poet

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Ammons was born in 1926 and raised in rural North Carolina, near Whiteville, the youngest of a tobacco farmer's three surviving children. Ammons started writing poetry on board a United States destroyer escort in the South Pacific during the World War Two. Upon his return to civilian life he majored in science at Wake Forest University and later did graduate work in English at the University of California, Berkeley. For a year he was principal of the tiny elementary school in the island village of Cape Hatteras. For the better part of a decade he worked at Friedrich & Dimmock Inc. as a sales executive in his father-in-law's biological glass company in Millville, New Jersey. Ammons was poet-in-residence at Cornell University.

Ammons published Ommateum with Doxology, his first book, in 1955. In 1964, he joined the English faculty at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY, and published his second collection. His Collected Poems 1951-1971 (1972), won the National Book Award in 1973. Ammons is a maverick talent, utterly distinctive in voice, marked by high poetic ambition yet capable of whimsy. A nature poet, with a highly developed scientific acumen that sets him off from his contemporaries, Ammons often seems intent on making the consciousness of the poet the secret or real subject of the poem. In many cases, meticulous observation of the natural world is put at the service of abstract investigations and themes, such as the question of the one and the many; Ammons is constantly on the search for a unifying principle among minute and divergent particulars. The critic Harold Bloom has championed Ammons as a transcendentalist, 'the most direct Emersonian in American poetry since Frost'.

Among long poems, Tape for the Turn of the Year (1965) is a notable experiment in form. The poem's skinny lines are the result of Ammons's decision to type out the poem, without revision, on a long roll of adding-machine paper. The buoyant and discursive Sphere (1974), considered by some Ammons's masterpiece, displays his formal and prosodic originality. Consisting of 155 sections, each containing four three-line stanzas, Sphere enacts 'the form of a motion' (the book's subtitle). The colon is used as an all-purpose punctuation mark, with the effect that closure is continually postponed. The three-line stanzas resemble a species of terza libre—a rhymeless version of the stanza unit of Shelley's 'Ode to the West Wind'. Ammons writes in an American idiom, has a 'democratic' bias in favor of lower-case letters, and switches rapidly from high to low diction.

In 1987, Ammons became a member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers.

A R Ammons: Poems | Best Poems | Short Poems | Quotes

Book: Shattered Sighs