I’m not really sure where A.R. Ammons stands or will stand in “the canon.” Despite receiving numerous major awards and grants during his lifetime, he remains (I think) more of a footnote than a figure in 20th century American poetry, a sort of weird bastard of Whitman’s transcendentalism, Stevens’s imaginative powers, and Williams’s colloquial rhetoric. In fact, the most precise criticism I’ve read concerning Ammons is in comparison to Stevens, when M.L. Rosenthal writes, “There is a great deal of feeling in Ammons; but in the interest of ironic self-control he seems afraid of letting the feeling have its way [as Stevens does].”
This is definitely true of Ammons. He often writes very “poetic” passages about existence or nature or humanity’s place in nature, only to undercut them with a moment or realization that points to the arbitrary nature of nature, or, frequently, the absurd immateriality and uselessness of poetry itself. For example, on one page of his book-length work, “Tape for the Turn of the Year,” he writes:
May 1st, 2011 / 5:09 pm
archie ammons is a dead guy who used to write poems. he doesn’t write poems anymore because he can’t move his limbs and i think he probably doesn’t have a mind anymore either. but when he was alive and still writing poems, he wrote book length poems, usually with each sentence separated by a colon. of his books, i have read, ‘Glare,’ ‘Tape for the Turn of the Year,’ ‘Garbage,’ ‘Bosh and Flapdoodle,’ ‘Sphere,’ ‘Ommateaum with Doxology’ and i think one other called something like ‘the northcarolina poems.’ he wrote on receipt paper scrolls using a typewriter. he did that because he wanted the experience of writing to seem unimportant. i remember reading something about how when he went on a drive to another state, he unrolled the receipt scroll for his current project and took it with him because he was afraid his house would burn down while he was gone. i understand being that paranoid but it’s usually over something like, a drawing of a horse on fire eating bacon or something unimportant.