In 1955, A.R. Ammons self-published his first collection of poems in a volume titled Ommateum. Five years later, he sold the 16th copy of his book. Working his way steadily up the ladder of success at his father-in-law’s company producing glassware used in biological and medical industries. The money was good and the dream of making a living as a poet he’d had since writing verse while the war in the Pacific raged around him in 1945 was fading without too much concern. After all, when you do not depend on your poetry to feed and shelter you, broad vistas of freedom open up.
Then in 1964 he took a position teaching at Cornell, published his second collection of poetry, and found himself at the center of one of the most extraordinary reversals of fortune in the history of American literature. Less than a decade later, Ammons collected most of the poems he’d produced over the last twenty years, compiled them together, and published them as Collected Poems 1951-1971. In 1973, the man who practically couldn’t give his poems away ten years before found himself accepting the National Book Award for Poetry for those collected poems.
Since then, Ammons has been vociferously championed by esteemed critic Harold Bloom in ways that have compared him favorably to Ralph Waldo Emerson and Robert Frost. Twenty years after publishing Collected Poems, Ammons would pick up his second National Book Award for Garbage. Although primarily known as a traditionalist American transcendentalist, Ammons has also gained fame for avant-garde experimentation for the unique provenance of the unusually constricted appearance of Tape for the Turn of the Year. The idiosyncratic construction of that particular piece is due to its being typed out on the narrow media of adding machine tape in a manner to be taken “as is” with no later corrections or revisions.
As for the recurrence of themes in the poems of A.R. Ammons, look no further than the man to which Bloom compares with the greatest singularity of purpose. Ammons belongs to the long and great tradition of the American Transcendentalists who sought to find unification between the great and the small. The result is an almost scientific obsession with the minute as a means of discovering something magnificent and prosaic preoccupation with the tangibility of nature as a pathway to the abstract. At the heart of their poetic output of Ammons is a concern to discover the connections between the one and the many and the opportunity for understanding that may derive from the analysis of this dualism.
A.R. Ammons was one of the most influential American poets of the 20th century. His works were praised by many, including Harold Bloom, who compared him to Ralph Waldo Emerson and Robert Frost. His unique style of writing was often based on philosophical and scientific principles, with a focus on the study of the minute to discover something magnificent. Themes of dualism, and the connections between the one and many, were recurring in his work, as he sought to bridge the gap between the physical and abstract.
Ammons’s works were also highly experimental, often taking a form, unlike any other poet. Tape for the Turn of the Year, for example, was written on narrow adding machine tape and was left “as is”, with no corrections or revisions. His use of experimental forms as a way of expressing his ideas, as well as his use of traditional forms, was highly praised. His works also often focused on the relationship between humans and nature, and the need for understanding and appreciation of the natural world. Ammons was awarded the National Book Award for Poetry in 1973 for his Collected Poems 1951-1971 and again in 1993 for Garbage, two of his most acclaimed works.