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Garbage: A Poem
by A. R. Ammons
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0393324117, Paperback)"Garbage," A.R. Ammons writes in this book-length poem, "has to be the poem of our time because / garbage is spiritual, believable enough / to get our attention, getting in the way..." Talky and playful, the couplets of the National Book Award-winning Garbage propel one through the trash dump of 20th-century meaning, as well as into the past and future, where "millennia jiggle in your eyes at night." This project, by turns wryly self-deprecating and densely philosophical, places Ammons in the company of such recent epic funnymen as John Ashbery, Ronald Johnson, and, very self-consciously, William Carlos Williams. Like any good epic, the poem begins in doubt, with Ammons wondering whether to write the book or simply retire and live a life of leisure on Social Security (plus a surely ample pension from his longtime Cornell University professorship). Like John Milton in the preamble to his epic, Paradise Lost, Ammons uses the metaphor of a tree to focus his poetic ambition. "I mean," he writes, "take my yard maple--put out in the free / and open--has overgrown, its trunk / split down from a high fork ... The fat tree, unable to stop pouring it on, overfed and overgrew ... It just / goes to show you: moderation imposed is better / than no moderation at all." Indeed, the poem's 121 pages seem at times nothing more than an attempt to buoy the moment between two extremes: exuberant falsehoods at one end of the scale, cynical platitudes on the other. This "moderation" has served as Ammons' dominant aesthetic during his long poetic career, though Garbage's length and epic ambitions disrupt his trademark austerity. Despite his tangential questioning of reality and time, the poem's ultimate wisdom lies in how it imagines the actively good person, one who sees that
...life, life is like a poem: the moment itIn a time when most poetry is about loss, Ammons wanders through our community junkyard and, with his good eye, points out what's valuable, and tells us, in his trustworthy tone, why. --Edward Skoog
(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:41 -0400)
In his first book of new poetry since Sumerian Vistas (1987), A. R. Ammons, one of America's greatest living poets, uses an unlikely subject - garbage - as the occasion for a profound and often funny meditation on nature and mutability. Driving along I-95 in Florida the poet sights a smoldering mountain of the stuff and is moved to muse: "garbage has to be the poem of our time because / garbage is spiritual, believable enough to get our attention, getting in the way, piling up, stinking, turning brooks brownish and / creamy white: what else deflects us from the / errors of our illusionary ways..." Ammons proceeds to evoke with his unique blend of intellectual rigor and American sublimity the impersonal beauties of natural processes both microscopic and cosmic, including ruefully amusing observations on the vagaries of aging.He asks what place poetry and language might have in this vast system and finds startling correspondences: "our language is something to write home about; / but it is not the world: grooming does for / baboons most of what words do for us." Never has the dreadful sundry of this world inspired such beauties of thought and expression. Already the subject of intense discussion following its partial publication in American Poetry Review, Garbage is A. R. Ammons's finest long poem since Tape for the Turn of the Year (1965). (Both poems were composed on adding machine tape.) It reaffirms the estimate of his work delivered on the presentation of the National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry for 1981 for Lake Country Effect, that he "stands in the tradition of Wordsworth, Emerson, and Whitman," creating poetry "remarkable for its radiant density of argument and feeling."
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