cover image The Complete Poems of A.R. Ammons: Vol. 1, 1955–1977; Vol. 2, 1978–2005

The Complete Poems of A.R. Ammons: Vol. 1, 1955–1977; Vol. 2, 1978–2005

Edited by Robert M. West. Norton, $49.95 (1,152p) ISBN 978-0-393-25489-1

Nearly a decade in the making, this immense two-volume retrospective painstakingly edited by West, associate professor of English at Mississippi State, “aims to offer authoritative texts” of every published poem by the prolific and illustrious Archie Randolph Ammons (1926–2001). In her introduction, Helen Vendler notes that Ammons “defined himself explicitly as an American poet writing of American places and American people.” His early poems were marked by scientific obsession, not surprising in the context of postwar America, but quite different from his late-’50s contemporaries, the beats and confessional poets. Ammons gradually turned towards matters of feeling and experience, but he remained ever attuned to the cycles and processes of nature. He was also a colloquial poet, which should not be confused with an anti-intellectual one. In the manner of William Carlos Williams, Ammons raised the American vernacular to the level of art. In Vendler’s estimation, Ammons’s work exhibits “constant humorous intimacy in everyday language.” The jovial or irreverent abuts the serious and earnest: “the weaving thermal gaze of/ the viper for the small mammal, mama/ mia.” Idiosyncratic punctuation, particularly an affinity for the colon, allows threads, however thin, to connect disparate ideas. Though Ammons produced many short poems, he was best known for his almost diaristic book-length poems such as The Snow Poems, Tape for the Turn of the Year, and Garbage: “garbage has to be the poem of our time because/ garbage is spiritual.” West rounds out this monumental body of work with 127 published but previously uncollected poems. Ammons “insouciantly filled up his page any way he liked,” writes Vendler, and West beautifully reproduces it all here. (Nov.)