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Laura Wittman on the Poetry of A.R. Ammons

Laura Wittman received her Ph.D. in 2001 from Yale University where she completed her dissertation in the Department of Italian Language and Literature. The title of her dissertation is “Mystics Without God: Spirituality and Form in Italian and French Modernism,” an analysis of the historical and intellectual context for the self-descriptive use of the term […]

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[ Music ]
This is KZSU Stanford.
Welcome to entitled opinions.
My name is Robert Harrison.
And we're coming to you from the Stanford campus.
[ Music ]
The opening stands up tombstones by AR Ammons.
The chisel chipping in, finds names, the wind can't blow away.
But if you were a young English poet falling mortal yield in Rome,
the chisel never found your name in the tombstone.
Here lies one whose name was written in water.
What did Keats have against water?
That like the wind it doesn't stay put long enough to write in.
Only the hard endures.
Rome has a way of reminding you of that, having entrusted its legacies to stone,
and its memory to marvel.
Compared to those lapidaries, Keats's curly English rhymes were but a bit of dust swirling in the air.
Memory muddered the muses they say, but most poets honor the Gorgon's head.
Petrification is their highest ambition.
[ Music ]
Welcome back friends, Romans, and countrymen.
Welcome back to entitled opinions.
Friends, Romans, countrymen, and trans countrymen, I should say,
since many of our listeners live beyond the shores of this new, yet unapproachable America.
I know that because they take the time to write to us and express their appreciation for these
on-air feasts of ideas that we bring you, weaken, and weak out in a spirit of Epicurean friendship.
To all of you who take the time to write us, countrymen and trans countrymen alike,
thank you very kindly.
And to those of you who tune in without bothering to write, thank you as well.
Our show today is devoted to one of the greatest American poets of the post-war generation,
AR Ammons, who died some six years ago in Ithaca, New York,
where for decades he had taught poetry at Cornell University.
I would not hesitate to call him the greatest American poet of that generation,
if I were not wary of harboring a personal prejudice in his regard.
For I knew Ammons well, I met him in 1980 when I first embarked upon my graduate studies at Cornell,
and during the next five years we became quite close to the point that the love that moves the sun and other stars
bound us together in open friendship, despite our age difference and my European old world background
that was so alien to his wide open, unfettered Americanism.
For five years during the academic months I saw him almost every weekday,
either in his office or in the Temple of Zeus coffeehouse.
By my calculation we must have logged more than 500 hours of conversation during that period,
intense, widely ranging, enriching conversation whose long lasting nourishment I am still living off of today.
And it continues, for that is the nature of conversation,
it doesn't end with the death of your interlocutor.
I keep talking to Archie and he keeps talking back.
There's a place in me where his voice keeps doing its thing.
As he puts it in a later stands of tombstones whose opening I have already cited,
nothing though, not stone nor light lasts, like the place I keep the love of you in,
and this, though nothing can write it down, and nothing keep it.
Such is the vanity of stone.
You think it lasts forever, but as Ammon's reminds us in the same poem,
a pulse in one of Earth's orbits beats once in 400,000 years.
In certain orders of time, stones blow by like the wind.
Starlight pricks them like bubbles.
And a bit later he adds,
"A flock of gulls flew by I thought, but it was a hillside of stones."
That is vintage ends.
A flock of gulls flew by I thought, but it was a hillside of stones.
Archie had a vision of the world that saw even in the apparent solidity of things,
the universal motion of whatever finds itself in the flow of what we call time,
but which is really a kind of motion.
There is nothing more mysterious, nothing more resistant to our categories of thought,
or our habits of thought than the nature of motion.
I know of only two poets who devoted their entire careers to thinking the form of motion,
and who consigned their poetry over to that form as they understood it.
Dante and Ammons.
The difference between them is that for Dante there was a prime mover,
whereas for Ammons there is only that which moves.
How and why and for how long God only knows.
I have with me in the studio a young scholar who was my very first guest on the very first episode of entitled opinions.
Her name is Laura Whitman from the Department of French and Italian here at Stanford,
and I've invited her back again today for at least two reasons.
First, because our previous show, back in 2005, on the French novelist Michel Túchne,
was a big hit among several of our listeners.
And second, because ever since we discovered that we both share a deep, non-academic passion for the poetry of AR Ammons,
we have said that we really should do a show on him.
That time has come, so here we are.
Laura, welcome back to entitled opinions.
Thank you Robert, it's great to be here.
Can you tell our listeners how you discovered Ammons?
I don't think I've ever asked you that question yet,
so this would be a good time to ask you how did you discover Ammons,
and why what made you so enthusiastic about his poetry?
Well, the first time I read his poetry, it was actually a sign to me in a class
where I was feeling very much at sea and very much in trouble,
and I couldn't understand what was going on, in particular I couldn't understand words with poetry,
and the professor Jeffrey Hartman told me to go read Ammons, perhaps,
and even more complex poet, to help me not really understand better,
but perhaps accept instability and misunderstanding.
And later I really found that Ammons' poetry became very much of a personal guide to me in my own life.
In moments when life felt very unstable and difficult and scary,
which I think is a thing we all experience,
we long for stability and closure and understanding,
and yet this kind of closure is really a form of death,
it's a form of ending, and his poetry really helped me to not just accept movement and change and instability,
but really to love it to see it as the very source of life.
That's a rather surprising answer from one point of view,
because I have monitored the fortunes of Ammons in the reading public,
American reading public, and there is definitely a large group of people who find him dismissible
for the fact that his poetry does not deal with social relations,
it doesn't ostensibly deal with any of the issues that concern life as lived experience.
He doesn't have anything to say about the city or the urban world.
I think there's a large misunderstanding that he's just a nature poet who is in his one critic put it,
and is just in his outpost, writing these little nature poems,
so it's surprising to see that you immediately, and you're reading of him,
found that there was a direct relevance to things that go very deeply to the experience of lived experience.
Well, I think he really sees the beauty of nature and its changeability as something that we also have inside us,
so even though he appears to be writing nature poems, he's really writing about our inner life as well.
I agree, and so the comment I made about him being the poet of motion,
and that so much of his poetry is devoted to thinking the nature of motion.
Would you agree with that?
Yeah, absolutely, and I'd like to talk about one of my favorite metaphors where he discusses what poetry is to him,
and he says that it's like writing a bicycle, and I'll quote just a little bit.
He goes on to say, you just go after it.
It is a matter of learning how to move with balance among forces greater than your own gravity,
waters, buoyants, psychic tides.
So he takes this metaphor that we all have that is very common of life as a path or indeed a poem as having a purpose or a path,
a line from A to B, and by evoking the bicycle talks about how this path is more of a meandering path,
and also suggests that it's important to enjoy the ride.
We often write bicycles just for the purpose of writing them, and also bicycles have a very human dimension.
You know, it's not the speed of airplanes, it's not often the sky, so I think all of that is there in poetry that it's kind of a meandering walk,
where you stop and observe, and no two rides are the same, right?
The path is going to be different every time, and perhaps even more important, there are these forces greater than your own, right?
To maintain your balance on the bicycle, you can't afford to be too rigid.
You have to constantly adapt and move from side to side and accept that there are both inner and outer forces that you have to deal with in life.
And finally, I think what's important about this metaphor is that it's a very everyday metaphor,
and I think very much believed in poetry as something accessible, understandable that we can all sort of do and enjoy,
even if we aren't poets, we can learn this special balance of life, and so he picks something that is very unlofty.
I like the insistence on forces of balance and also the meandering quality of bicycle riding,
because otherwise there might be a danger in the very image of the bicycle finding a resolution to the old sort of aporrhea between circular motion and linear motion,
so that for example, one can say that the divine comedy, which is all based on the circular and yet there's a linear progress,
that if you use the image of the bicycle which has round, obviously it's wheels around, and the more they turn in the circular motion, the more they go in a rectilinear direction.
But of course, I think at Richard Howard the poet said that Ammons is really the poet of these the Lucretian poet, of the sideways swerve, and the at times not chaotic as such, but certainly those things which resist any containment within either a purely circular movement or a purely linear movement or even a synthesis of the two of them.
Yeah, I completely agree. I mean, I think clearly in the bicycle metaphor it's more important to him that we are in three dimensions swaying from side to side than actually moving forward or even moving circularly or going somewhere.
So there's the pleasure of just being there in that moment, and he compares it to a walk as well, and a walk could be seen as going somewhere too, but it could also be seen as enjoying the actual walking,
and he talked about walks as things that don't necessarily go somewhere and usually return to places they went to.
So, one fact, there's an excellent example of that, which is one of his most famous poems, at least it's one of the most anthologized, called "Corsons inlet," which includes many of these motifs.
And I don't know, if you don't mind, I might even read it.
Yes, that would be wonderful, it's such a beautiful pun.
"Corsons inlet, I went for a walk over the dunes again this morning to the sea, then turned right along the surf, rounded a naked headland and returned along the inlet shore.
It was muggy sunny, the wind from the sea steady and high, crisp in the running sand, some breakthroughs of sun, but after a bit, continuous overcast.
The walk liberating I was released from forms, from the perpendiculars, straight lines, blocks, boxes, vines of thought into the hues, shadings, rises, flowing bends and blends of sight.
I allow myself eddies of meaning, yield to a direction of significance running like a stream through the geography of my work.
You can find in my sayings, swerves of action like the inlet's cutting edge.
There are dunes of motion, organizations of grass, white sandy paths of remembrance in the overall wandering of mirroring mind.
But overall is beyond me.
Is the sum of these events I cannot draw, the ledger I cannot keep, the accounting beyond the account.
In nature there are few sharp lines, there are areas of primrose, more or less dispersed, disorderly orders of bayberry between the rows of dunes, irregular swamps of reeds, though not reeds alone, but grass, bayberry, yarrow, all predominantly reeds.
I have regional conclusions, have erected no boundaries, shutting out and shutting in, separating inside from outside.
I have drawn no lines, as manifold events of sand change the dunes shape that will not be the same shape tomorrow.
So I am willing to go along to accept the becoming thought, to stake off no beginnings or ends, establish no walls.
By transitions the land falls from grassy dunes to creek to under creek, but there are no lines, though change in that transition is clear as any sharpness.
But sharpness spread out, allowed to occur over a wider range than mental lines can keep.
The moon was full last night, today low tide was low, black shoals of muscles exposed to the risk of air and earlier of sun, waved in and out with the waterline, waterline in exact, caught always in the event of change.
A young mottled gulls stood free on the shoals and ate the vomiting.
Another gulls, quarking possession cracked a crab, picked out the entrails, swallowed the soft shell legs, a ready turnstone running in to snatch left over bits.
Risk is full, every living thing in siege.
The demand is life, to keep life.
The small white black legged egret, how beautiful, quietly stalks and spears the shallows, darts to shore to stab, what I couldn't see against the black mudflaps.
A frightened fiddler crab.
The news to my left over the dunes and reeds and bayberry clumps was fall.
Thousands of tree swallows gathering for flight, an order held in constant change, a congregation rich with entropy.
Nevertheless, separable, noticeable as one event, not chaos.
Preparations for flight from winter, cheat, cheat, cheat, cheat, wings, rifling, the green clumps, beaks at the berries.
A perception full of wind, flight, curve, sound, the possibility of rule as the sum of rulelessness, the field of action with moving incalculable center.
In the smaller view, order tight with shape, blue tiny flowers on a leafless weed, carapassive crab, snail shell.
Pulsations of order in the bellies of minnows, orders swallowed, broken down, transferred through membranes to strengthen larger orders, but in the large view, no lines or changeless shapes, the workings in and out together and against of millions of events.
This, so that I make no form of formlessness, orders as summaries, as outcomes of actions override or in some way result, not predictably, seeing me gain the top of a dune the swallows could take flight, some other fields of bayberry could enter fall,
a very list, and there is serenity. No arranged terror, no forcing of image, plan or thought no propaganda, no humbling of reality to precept. Terror pervades but is not arranged.
All possibilities of escape, open, no route shut, except in the sudden loss of all routes.
I see orders, limited tightness, but will not run to that easy victory. Still around the looser wider forces work, I will try to fasten into order enlarging graphs of disorder, widening scope, but enjoying the freedom that scope eludes my grasp that there is no finality of vision that I have perceived nothing completely, that tomorrow a new walk is a new walk.
That's a very beautiful poem, and I love the fact that you read the whole thing because it has a slowness to it, a willingness to look at the world and observe and pause and hesitate.
And that's part of what the length of the poem says, right? And of course, very important is this idea that there is no finality of vision, which he ends with, right? The insistence that tomorrow's walk is a new walk and a whole new,
world of perception will be there tomorrow. And so the only kind of meaning that he allows himself, as he says at the beginning, is this kind of eddies of meaning that are like streams. So there are temporary meanings within a larger world of constant movement. So flights of birds and the changing shoreline. So there are small patterns and those are in many ways what is given to us.
And he says, the overall, however, is beyond me and scope with a capital S is also beyond him. Is this what you were referring to earlier when you said that reading him reminds you that life is made of this kind of change, relative instability. He also says it's not chaos. This is important in the poem that he's not handing all order over to its opposite, which is anarchy.
It's rather forms of order or temporary consolidations of order that are never fixed at their boundaries, always shifting.
Absolutely. That's what I was thinking of. And indeed, he talks about order held in constant change. So it's definitely not chaos. That's very important.
I think that eddies of meaning or moments of order or temporary orders are for him. There really are events. So the world is not made up of objects for him or even of entities, but rather of moments of entropy of moments of connection when you perceive an order and in fact become part of it or connect with it.
And these are these eddies where order can happen for a moment. And then, of course, it dissolves because it's constantly moving so you can't hold on to it. You can't fix it. It's not, it's not a stone to go back to your introduction.
And therefore, indeed, there is no overall with a capital O. And I think it's important that he associates the overall in this poem, in fact, with propaganda, right?
He says there is no propaganda, there is no humbling of reality to precept. So the overall in some way is a concept, right? It's a construct that human beings make in wanting to have this perspective from above, this intemporal perspective, which for Emmons, I think, really doesn't exist. So we, we mustn't pretend that we can contain reality within this concept.
In fact, there is a drive in the human mind to totalize the world of meaning and to reduce all particulars, to precepts or generalities. And he, you know, if you, what I find compelling in many of his poems is the struggle that the speaker of the poem is engaged in in trying to learn or to avoid the becoming the victim of this compulsion, to take that
leap into the overall and to find that moment of scope. I think Harold Bloom, who was an important reader of Emmons and that Emmons dedicated to some of his poems to Bloom, we might even read one later, said that something to the effect that it was in, Emmons is resisting the, you know, the, the draw of transcendentalism that allowed him to become the poet of course in
let and, and others kind of, this kind of nature poetry in the radical sense where the mind, he, so that as he goes for a walk, it's also a mental process that's taking place. Not organic, but he's trying to learn from what the eye, the physical eye sees, he's trying to learn how to think differently about reality.
Yeah, I certainly agree. I think he's trying to encounter the movement of reality and, and match it with his own movement rather than what would be more standard, which would be a sort of classification or a fixing of reality with language.
So for him poetry is that very unique use of language that is not fixed and conceptual, but that tries to espouse the movement of the world. And I think what's interesting in what you said too is that this is a struggle, right? Because we, I think we, we tend to want understanding, we use language to grasp for things.
And so it's really a difficult exercise to accept and even to enjoy instability. And so he says I have reached no conclusions erected no boundaries separating inside from outside. And that, that can sound great as it were, but he also talks about risk a little later in
in course in inlet and talks about every living thing and siege. And so life is also, it's also death. It's also the struggle for life and being part of instability is not always at all an easy thing and, and it's, it's an exercise almost spiritual exercise that this walk becomes and I would say though that he also, he also says there is serenity, right? And the serenity comes towards the end almost as a surprise.
And I, this is my question for you actually. What do you think of this serenity that seems so important as the outcome of this struggle?
Tough question. I don't see him so much as a guru looking for enlightenment or wisdom or that moment of ataracic, that remember from those of you who listen to the show on Epicurus, remember the word ataracias, that state of unperturbiveness in the soul.
One could from this poem alone imagine that yeah, he is looking to free his mind from the rigid sort of in positions of form that come through categorization and precept and so forth and to kind of flow with nature and become at one with nature in that regard.
And if that were the case, I would agree with the people who say that his poetry is largely irrelevant to human experience because we know that however much we try to live in accord with the sort of world where everything is in motion, everything is changing, where even rocks in larger orders of time are in flow.
The fact is that a human existence is a very finite span of time and that our death is always an imminent possibility and that even if it's not our own personal death, we experience the death of others and we have, we undergo a series of very deep losses that mark us.
You can't be human without losing your childhood or you can't be human without losing an illusion or more extreme cases, a loved one or a homeland and so forth.
So when that word serenity, I think it's fine within the context of this poem, but I also know that Archie was not so, let's say naively optimistic as to think that this would be an answer to the profundity of human grief and the reality of it.
Yes, I quite agree with you, I think from reading his poetry, I feel that serenity actually is an eddy of meaning.
Exactly, well put.
It can be there for a moment as a surprise as a gift, but indeed life has also the place for grief really and I'd like to read a poem where he talks very explicitly about the relationship between grief and this motion celebration of motion.
And it's a poem where he mentions a very early event in his life which was the death of his younger brother when he was a child, which was clearly a very early experience of grief that he that stayed very, very central to him.
So this poem is called Easter Morning.
I have a life that did not become, that turned aside and stopped astonished.
I hold it in me like a pregnancy or as on a lap a child, not to grow old, but dwell on.
It is to his grave that I most frequently return and return to ask what is wrong, what was wrong to see it all by the light of a different necessity, but the grave will not heal and the child stirring must share my grave with me, an old man having gotten by on what was left.
The child in me that could not become was not ready for others to go, to go on into change blessings and horrors, but stands there by the road where the mishap occurred, crying out for help, come and fix this or we can't get by.
But the great ones who were to return, they could not or did not hear and went on in a flurry and now I say in the graveyard, here lies the flurry, now it can't come back with help or help fully.
Now we all by the bitter incompletions pick up the knots of horror silently raving and go on to crashing into empty ends, not completions, not renderers, the fullness has come into and spent itself from.
I stand on the stump of a child, whether myself or my little brother who died, and yell as far as I can, I cannot leave this place.
For me it is the dearest and the worst, it is life nearest to life which is life lost, it is my place where I must stand and fall and fail, calling attention with tears to the branches not lofting, bows into space to the barren air that holds the world that was my world.
Through the incompletions and completions, burnout standing in the flash-high-burned momentary structure of ash, still it is a picture book letter perfect Easter morning.
I have been for a walk, the wind is tranquil, the brook works without flashing in an abundant tranquility, the birds are lively with voice.
I saw something I had never seen before, two great birds maybe eagles, black-winged, white-necked, and headed came from the south, oring the wings steadily.
They went directly over me, high up and kept on due north.
But then one bird, the one behind, veered a little to the left and the other bird kept on seeming not to notice for a minute.
The first began to circle as if looking for something, coasting, resting its wings, on the downside of some of the circles.
The other bird came back and they both circled, looking perhaps for a draft.
They turned a few more times, possibly rising, at least clearly resting.
Then flew on falling into distance till they broke across the local bush and trees.
It was a sight of bountiful majesty and integrity, the having patterns and roots, breaking from them to explore other patterns or better ways to roots.
Then the return, a sacred, a dance sacred as the sap in the trees, permanent in its descriptions as the ripple round the Brooks ripple stone, fresh as this particular flood of burn breaking across us now from the sun.
That's another long poem.
You chose it because I take it that you really like this poem.
I have to say that I like it until that last long stands.
I don't want to say like because that's not what I mean.
Let me phrase it in terms of a question.
Because I find that here it's a very untypical, atypical Ammon's poem at the beginning where he's actually going home.
There are others in the poem.
There are ants and family and other people.
It's a moment of grief.
I presume or there's some evocation of the gravesite.
There's a dead young brother.
Then once you get close to this human phenomenon of grief and loss.
He goes back to his comfortable familiar, almost escapist territory, which is to look at the flight of the birds and to say,
"Well, there's this other world of nature where the law of human grief doesn't apply."
Am I misreading that poem from in your view?
Well, I understand how you would get there in that poem does have two parts.
And the first one focuses very much on grief.
And the second one goes back to this idea of the movement of nature.
But I think the reason I like it is because there are some, well, the word "return" itself actually.
I think sort of undoes that duality and suggests that he's not escaping.
And I'd like to point to, in the beginning he says it is to his grave that I most frequently return and return.
And a little bit later, he insists on the way completion and incompletion go together.
So I believe that when he mentions the return as a sacred dance, as the sap in the trees, right, as the brook at the end,
the way that nature returns is actually not different from the way that he returns to grief.
And that's what I like about the poem is that it tells us that that movement of nature that can seem like an escape and can seem like a sort of acceptance of the cycle of life as a consolation.
Actually, that cycle is the very same cycle that also brings us back to grief and brings us back to human attachment,
which I think is actually quite important for him.
That attachment is part of that cycle. And I agree with you that without that attachment, then the movement of nature does seem like an escape.
So that's why I like the fact that he does go back to the element of being attached to other human beings, being attached to countryside's places, ideas, and how those two pass away.
And that is very difficult.
What do you make of this child in him that either died, that it is to his grave, I most frequently return and return?
That's the life in him that never became. And of course, that seems to have his correlate in his little brother who died young.
And you were mentioning earlier the dynamic between completion and incompletion.
What do you think that life is that didn't become and what kind of grave is this that he's returning to all the time frequently at least?
Well, perhaps the life that was interrupted, that's sort of the beginning of the image, his young brother's life that was interrupted,
It's a life that could have gone in many, many ways, right? There are endless possibilities there. There's all of that great openness.
And yet, of course, there's also great loss because there's not one of these possibilities was realized.
And I think that life in him is his double experience of tremendous grief and yet of awareness of the link between grief and the openness of many possibilities.
And those are located in that same place.
So I think that for himself, of course, he loses his own childhood by becoming an adult, and there's grief in that.
And all of us have to ultimately, we have one path in life.
And yet, I think the ability to return to this moment of loss is also an ability to change that path or open up new paths or to me under a little bit, not to get stuck in one direction.
I think you're right. And when it's quite extraordinary how when human beings talk about the phenomenon of loss, everyone else seems to understand exactly what they're talking about.
And no less so in the case of this poem, at least in its first half, reminds me of something in Walden, you know, by Thoreau, who must have had a certain importance for Amens.
He told me, he did anyway.
Where a famous enigmatic passage in Walden where Thoreau says, "I long ago lost a hound, a bay horse, and a turtle dove, and I'm still on their trail."
Many are the travelers I have spoken to concerning them, describing their tracks and what they, what calls they answered to.
And they met one or two who have met the hound and the tramp of the horse and even seen the dove disappear behind a cloud, and they seemed as anxious to recover them as if they had lost them themselves.
And this seems to suggest that there's something binding in the experience of loss.
And I know that there's one poem that Archie has where he makes us very explicit, and maybe we can read that too.
This is the poem for Harold Bloom, I mentioned him earlier.
And, well, let me just read it.
"I went to the summit and stood in the high nakedness, the wind tore about this way and that in confusion, and its speech could not get through to me, nor could I address it."
"Still, I said as if to the alien in myself, I do not speak to the wind now.
For having been, having been brought this far by nature, I have been brought out of nature.
And nothing here shows me the image of myself.
For the word tree, I have been shown a tree, and for the word rock I have been shown a rock.
For stream, for cloud, for star, this place has provided firm implication and answering.
But where here is the image for longing?"
"So I touched the rocks, they're interesting crusts.
I flaked the bark of stunt fur, I looked into space and into the sun, and nothing answered my word longing."
"Good-bye," I said.
"Good-bye, nature so grand and reticent.
Your tongues are healed up into their own element, and as you have shut up, you have shut me out.
I am as foreign here as if I had landed a visitor."
"So I went back down and gathered mud, and with my hand made an image for longing.
I took the image to the summit.
First I said it here on the top rock, but it completed nothing.
Then I said it there among the tiny furrs, but it would not fit.
So I returned to the city and built a house to set the image in.
And men came into my house and said, 'That is an image for longing.'
And nothing will ever be the same again."
Yes, this is a very interesting poem because it's, well, as you said, unusual in this poem,
he talks about being brought out of nature, which is really surprising.
This idea that to be human is, as we've said all along, to be part of this movement of nature,
and yet suddenly in this poem, to be human is also to have this longing that seems to be something that is beyond nature itself.
And my interpretation of this longing that is uniquely human is that it's precisely human attachment,
that the things that we love we long for, and we long for them because they are indeed caught in time.
And so it's really impossible to separate love and grief, I think at least in Amiens's poetry.
And it's interesting, of course, that the poem ends with the image for longing, which it's almost like an allegory of the creation of religion,
the end of this poem, right, that you build an image for longing and you build a house for it.
And you turn it, you turn what you long for into an object, and something is lost there.
I think there are biblical illusions too about the creation of Adam through the mud.
And then even a kind of ecology, if you take the word ecology from the two Greek words, "Oricos," which means "house," and "logos," which means the word.
He built a house for this word longing.
And men, when they come into that house, they say, "That is an image for longing," and one can't help but imagine that this house is his poetry, that other people read and recognize or should recognize that there is this constant longing at work in the poem, even
the person's inlet, which we are reading, precisely because of what you said that we are both inside and outside of nature, that our longing is a not so much a longing for closure as it is a longing for everything that time keeps depriving us of by the fact that the
flow of time is a series of constant losses, one sort or another, and how can one possibly be human without having to grieve somehow, that part of the process.
It's true, every new walk is a new walk, there's new possibility, and a new birth, and one is constantly being reborn in the new, but there's also this other story that he does not neglect.
He doesn't neglect it, I think he's very discreet about it, and deliberately, and we haven't really brought up the word love very much, which doesn't appear very much in his poetry, but I think is nonetheless very important in that, at least the way I read him, especially in his long poem, sphere that is a whole poem about this kind of movement and both the grief and the joy of this kind of movement.
He talks about love a little bit, and I think love becomes the force that binds the world perhaps, but also the force that unbinds, but it is certainly the force, I would say the thing, the reality.
And so, I think my image that I derive from his poetry is that we, when we have these moments of cohesion that are also events or connections with other people or with a countryside or with an idea, even these moments of cohesion are events in time, and yet I think he longs for some sort of preservation of the importance of cohesion.
So you can't hold on to them, but to some degree you can cherish them, and that's I think what the house that contains the image for longing can do, and that what his poetry can do actually is to also to celebrate these events of cohesion of encounter.
And their temporary, and one of my favorite lines from the poem sphere is when he writes that love is better awry than any other quantity true, right? So love is better even when it's sort of,
a healthier shelter when it's temporary, when it's wrong in various ways, but it's still better than any other quantity true. So this movement of binding and and binding is the most important thing.
Yeah, we should tell our listeners that this poem sphere is a whole long book, and it's subtitle is the form of emotion, and I think it won the volunteer prize back in the 70s.
And speaking of love, there might be a reason why he doesn't mention it very much in his corpus, and I began in my introduction with some verses from tombstones, and in that longer poem he writes the following.
And I hadn't thought of it in these terms, but it's coming to me now if love is fine, and stones are harsh evidences by harsh evidences I think he means they seem to be solid, but there as evanescent as everything else if you look at it in the longer term perspective.
If love is fine and stones are harsh evidences, how may we dishonor love to let her down its name, wasting the love on hard waters of inscription?
That's beautiful.
And this idea, the hard waters of inscription I think has to be an illusion to get to Keats in Rome, here lies one whose name was written water. The waters of inscription, but then he goes on to say the universe is itself loves memorial.
Every cliff face, rocky loft having spent itself through love's light, held here till love again burn it free. 90% of the universe is dead stars, but look how the light still plays flumes down millennial ranges.
Yes, I agree that that certainly fits very well what I was saying, the idea that love is actually more, is the movement, right? It's something far more mobile and beautiful and alive than any inscription or word could contain.
And yet, of course, part of life is having these eddies of meaning, these temporary containers for love, these expressions.
And I think that it's that tension of giving love these temporary realizations that are what we have in life, and yet knowing that it is something greater than we are that make his poetry extremely, extremely beautiful and in a real life lesson, I think.
That's why in my monologue when people might have said Dante and Ammons is Harrison out of his mind.
Well, what I meant is that I think you phrased it very nicely that love is what time and motion and love I think are all part are all the same thing in Ammons and in Dante in the same way. No, because love is a foreign motion or and if it's the form of motion one cannot really letter it or give it, you know, the hard waters of inscription.
I think one can give oneself over to it though. I think that's important too.
There's also, of course, you read a poem called Easter Morning, which is a very special day, of course, in the in the in the Christian calendar today of resurrection.
There has to be some illusion to that in tombstones. I just want to let me just bring our attention to one very unusual stanza in this longer poem,
which is all about the way in which time is the whole story and there's just larger and larger orders of time in which everything is in movement through, I guess, the force of love, but there's one very exceptional stanza where he says,
"Rivulets of scattering corruptions way of getting on with things, remembers, unremembered." Still the name, he's talking about the name of the deceased that are that's engraved in the tombstone. Still the name will call together in the last time, the new time, in the new morning, all the bits of information and the name said, the form will come again.
The distance between named and name run.
I was working on this poem for my own purposes and Ammons, which are being still alive, I wrote to him and I said,
This is a very bizarre contradiction that there's going to be a time, what actually does this section 7 mean? And he wrote me back the following.
I haven't the famous idea of what number 7 means. Could it mean the resurrection, the time out of time, which is eternity? Of course, there's no such place, except now, in time, while we think on what is finally, all together,
and forever. Love Archie.
That's wonderful. Yes. Well, I think your question was definitely a good one. And of course, he, I think it's interesting that he insists very much on how salvation to be saved is here, local and mortal, which is the thing he writes in sphere, so that it's very clear that he doesn't want there to be a transcendent salvation.
And I think my interpretation of that would be that if there is, you were talking about Easter and resurrection, and he brings it up to the time out of time, which is eternity.
My impression is that for him and his poetry, there's always a return to time, and so if there is a kind of salvation or resurrection, it's not going into eternity, but perhaps espousing the whole movement of time,
in large, our ability to become part of the movement. I agree. And I think that in the final hypothesis, he wants to say something like the following, that nothing is lost in time. Yes.
If time is the whole story. It's a little bit like the conclusion very different in some respects, but Nietzsche came to this conclusion. He said, hey, if time is lost in time, it's not the same.
If time is infinite, let's say there's no end to time, then all possibilities of material combinations have existed an infinite number of times before, and therefore eternal recurrence of the same and so forth. I don't think that's what he means as such, but when he says that eternity, of course, there's no such place except now in time, while we think on what is finally altogether and forever, I think he's not denying the existence of eternity.
He says there's no such place except in the now in time, while we think, and that as long as we're thinking it, it might be happening. But of course, if we're not thinking it, maybe this place doesn't exist. And maybe one of the purposes of his poetry is to allow that place really to exist or fully.
I think the image for that is, you know, his poem's fear, as you mentioned, is the form of emotion. And I think motion, the idea is of this time can be a single motion or a dance as he mentions in Easter morning that is continuous that goes on and that, therefore things are preserved if you continue that motion or you continue that dance or you enter into it.
And his poetry is definitely an invitation to enter into that motion and be part of it.
Laura, one of his, one of my favorite books of art, Jesus, Gler, which is a late book of his, I think, came out in the 90s if I'm not mistaken.
Last book, yeah, apart from the past few more stuff. Do you like that book as well?
I do. I do. I find it very compelling because he is really confronting, I think, illness and old age and death and sort of grief in this very personal way of one's own existence coming close to its end.
And he meditates on that in a very beautiful way. And Gler has two parts.
The first part is really about this constrainment and the advancement of old age. And the second part is more improvisational. It's been compared to jazz. It has this celebration of possibility yet again. So there's once again being able to bring together these two things in movement.
And I'd like to read a short part of Gler.
Yeah, go ahead. Yeah, short part. Yes, we don't know that much. Yes.
It starts this way. Here me, O Lord, from the height of the high place where speaking is not necessary to hearing and hearing is in all languages.
Here me, please have mercy for I have hurt people, though I think not much and wear much never intentionally. And I have accumulated a memory and some heavy fantasy guilt written.
And as a non religious person, I have no way to a swage, relieve or forgive myself.
And I'm skipping ahead a little bit. He continues half guilty in most cases, sometimes in all. We are half guilty and we live in pain.
May we suffer in your cool presence, maybe weep in your surrounding that already has understood. We could not walk here without our legs and our feet kill our steps, however careful.
If you can send no word silently healing, I mean if it is not proper or realistic to send word, actual lips saying these broken sounds.
Why may we be allowed to suppose that we can work this stuff out the best we can and having felt our sins to their deepest definitions.
Maybe walk with you as a long line of trees every now and then your clarity and warmth shattering across our shadowed way.
Yeah, you know, if our listeners have to just read one thing by amends, it has to be clear. Every time I read any line from that book, I say what a miracle at the end of the end of a poet's life, where most poets do their best work and their youth.
And many of them are worthless and later in a not the case with with Amends and that passage he read is just a prime sort of sample of that.
Yeah, I agree. I think he really took up the challenge that you were mentioning at the beginning, which is that not to allow his view of nature as motion and as this beautiful movement of love, not to escape into that.
When he was confronted with old age and illness and the death of friends is one thing that he talks about in glare as well.
The death of loved ones, he really confronted that and made a whole new poem out of it that has this great image at the end of the part I read that I like of shattered light.
So it's again, it's about motion, but it also suggests that we ourselves are in some way the intersection of shadow and light of the radiance that comes in some way from nature and the shadow, the need for binding for attachment.
Well and finally I have to say that we haven't touched at all on the prosodic elements of his poetry and he is just I think the most extraordinary linear that I know of who also, the visual display or outlay of the poem on the page is so crucial that maybe this doesn't come across when we've read it here on air, but he was a very visual creature.
He was always looking at the world and he wrote his poems really to be as seen as much as to be read in the way that the lines are actually broken up.
So the experience of actually reading him on the page is a much fuller one perhaps than hearing him so.
I quite agree I do think that the full experience in many ways is both looking and reading out loud because his poems a lot of the movement in his poems is also the movement of your breath and that is both similar and different to what's on the page and that's a big part of the beauty of reading him.
Well if he's listening to us somehow Laura I hope that he agrees with me that we've done him a little bit of justice at least.
I hope so. Thanks for coming on.
Thank you.