A. R. Ammons


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North Carolina-born poet, after graduation from Wake Forest College and study at the University of California, Berkeley, where he was encouraged by Josephine Miles, wrote poetry while working in a glass factory before publishing his first small book, Ommateum, with Doxology (1955), whose title refers to the vision that insects have with compound eye structure. A move to teaching creative writing as a professor at Cornell (1964–) preceded his next book, nearly a decade later, Expressions of Sea Level (1964). With it began his career as a major poet. Writing in his own voice, he also relates clearly to the American transcendental tradition, recalling Emerson's concern with the relations of the One and the Many, Thoreau's isolation and concentration on nature, and Whitman's democratic sensibility and use of lengthy monologue. While waiting for the publication of his second volume, Ammons wrote a personal poetic journal, Tape for the Turn of the Year (1965), whose brevity in line and length in form were the result of his typing it, without revision, on a roll of adding machine paper. His collection of lyrics was quickly followed by another, Corsons Inlet (1965), in one of whose poems he wrote of “eddies of meaning … running like a stream through the geography of my work … but Overall is beyond me.” In these works and those that followed, including Northfield Poems (1966), Uplands (1970), Briefings (1971), Collected Poems (1971, National Book Award), Sphere: The Form of a Motion (1974), Diversifications (1975), The Snow Poems (1977), Highgate Road (1977), A Coast of Trees (1981), Wordly Hopes (1982), and Lake Effect Country (1983), he confirmed his position as a leading American writer of his time (he won a Bollingen Prize, 1973–74), whose poems are marked by a tension between specific observations and philosophic abstractions framed in an ecological context, often expressed in meditations inspired by solitary walks along a shoreline.

Subjects: Literature.

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