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Ammons: Garbage

June 28, 2010

A. R. Ammons–his first name is Archie, a pun he uses more than once–is a major American poet of the second half of the 20th century. Garbage, published in 1993 and winner of the National Book Award, is considered one of his greatest achievements. Among his influences, critics note that Ammons is a descendant of Emerson and Thoreau and Whtiman’s varieties of everyday transcendentalism, a mixture of idealism and reality. I thus hear echoes of Emerson and Thoreau (and by extension, Dillard) throughout the book. Perhaps most strongly in section 14, where he focuses on the “transmutation” of garbage and waste and leavings that characterizes our nature. Focusing on an anthill, Ammons observes

…the little

black buggers are circulating outside and inside

tunnels, as in a cave weather or meshwokr weather’s

digestive, arterial systems; the universe… [87]

Chris Jordan

Another visit to Thoreau’s thawing sandbank and its excrementitious beauty.  Ammons suggests that not only can this be subject matter for poetry, this ‘garbage,’ but such poetry may be all we have to live by.  Everything is real, but we need help, need poetry, it seems, to deal with all the meanings.

A vision, then, for a kind of environmental poetry; but also, as he turns often to the ideas and words of poetry in the poem, a vision for poetry as environment. Maybe the poets, who know a thing or two about alchemical transmuation (time’s and guts’ alembics), can help save the environment.

For further reading on Ammons and his poetry.

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