A. R. Ammons

A. R. Ammons bigraphy, stories - Poet

A. R. Ammons : biography

18 February 1926 – 25 February 2001

Archie Randolph Ammons (February 18, 1926 – February 25, 2001) was an American poet who won the annual National Book Award for Poetry in 1973 and 1993. He wrote about humanity’s relationship to nature in alternately comic and solemn tones.


Ammons grew up on a tobacco farm near Whiteville, North Carolina, in the southeastern part of the state. He served in the U.S. Navy during World War II, stationed on board the U.S.S. Gunason, a battleship escort.Gantt, Patricia (1992). "The A.R. Ammons Papers: Bits of Resistance Against Time." North Carolina Literary Review 1: 164–165. After the war, Ammons attended Wake Forest University, majoring in biology. Graduating in 1949, he served as a principal and teacher at Hattaras Elementary School later that year and also married Phyllis Plumbo.Wilson, Emily Herring (October 2007). "A Poet in Hattaras Village." Our State: Down Home in North Carolina: 204-208. He received an M.A. in English from the University of California, Berkeley.

In 1964, Ammons joined the faculty of Cornell University, eventually becoming Goldwin Smith Professor of English and Poet in Residence. He retired from Cornell in 1998.

Ammons had been a longtime resident of Northfield, New Jersey, and Millville, New Jersey, when he wrote Corsons Inlet in 1962.Laymon, Rob. , The Press of Atlantic City, July 23, 1992. Accessed March 29, 2011. "Ammons wrote Corsons Inlet in August of 1962, after having lived in Northfield and Millville for many years."

Poetic style

Ammons often writes in two- or three-line stanzas. Poet David Lehman notes a resemblance between Ammons’s terza libre (unrhymed three-line stanzas) and the terza rima of Shelley’s "Ode to the West Wind." Lines are strongly enjambed. Some of Ammons’s poems are very short, one or two lines only, while others (for example, the book-length poems Sphere and Tape for the Turn of the Year) are hundreds of lines long, and sometimes composed on adding machine tape or other continuous strips of paper. His National Book Award-winning volume Garbage is a long poem consisting of "a single extended sentence, divided into eighteen sections, arranged in couplets".

Many readers and critics have noted Ammons’s idiosyncratic approach to punctuation. Lehman has written that Ammons "bears out T. S. Eliot’s observation that poetry is a ‘system of punctuation’." Instead of periods, some poems end with an ellipsis; others have no terminal punctuation at all. The colon is an Ammons "signature"; he uses it "as an all-purpose punctuation mark."

The colon permits him to stress the linkage between clauses and to postpone closure indefinitely…. When I asked Archie about his use of colons, he said that when he started writing poetry, he couldn’t write if he thought "it was going to be important," so he wrote "on the back of used mimeographed paper my wife brought home, and I used small [lowercase] letters and colons, which were democratic, and meant that there would be something before and after [every phrase] and the writing would be a kind of continuous stream."

According to critic Stephen Burt, in many poems Ammons combines three types of diction:

  • A “normal” range of language for poetry, including the standard English of educated conversation and the slightly rarer words we expect to see in literature (“vast,” “summon,” “universal”).
  • A demotic register, including the folk-speech of eastern North Carolina, where he grew up (“dibbles”), and broader American chatter unexpected in serious poems (“blip”).
  • The Greek- and Latin-derived phraseology of the natural sciences (“millimeter,” “information of actions / summarized”), especially geology, physics, and cybernetics.

Such a mixture is nearly unique, Burt says; these three modes are "almost never found together outside his poems".