What do you mean teaching poetry writing and wasting your time painting sober little organic, meaningful pictures?

        I was released from forms,
from the perpendiculars,
  straight lines, blocks, boxes, binds
of thought
into the hues, shadings, rises, flowing bends and blends
    of sight:
      I allow myself eddies of meaning:
yield to a direction of significance
like a stream through the geography of my work

Those lines are from A.R. Ammons' poem "Corsons Inlet", and describe not only that inlet but one of his outlets beyond the printed page: painting, as you can discover in an online feature by Elizabeth Mills.
Mills says of his late-1970's watercolors:
"Painting daily, with speed and concentration, Ammons created images that allowed him to transform unconscious, but nevertheless 'blistering' emotion 'into the brilliance, the sweep and curve, the dash and astonishment (along with the cool definition, judgment, and knowledge) of still completed things.' Paintings from this period embody experimental motions corresponding to those in the poems from the mid-to-late 1970s, when he composed works such as 'Easter Morning,' written in 1978, published first in Poetry in 1979 and central to A Coast of Trees (1981)."
Her quoted bits are from his essay on the power of painting, "Changing Things" - but stilmulated by neighboring threads here, I'll end with some versified poetry criticism from Garbage on the perils of painting in words:
Creepy little creepers are insinuatingly
curling up my spine (bringing the message)
saying, Boy!, are you writing that great poem
the world's waiting for: don't you know you
have an unaccomplished mission unaccomplished;
someone somewhere may be at this very moment
dying for the lack of what W. C. Williams says
you could (or somebody could) be giving: yeah?
so, these messengers say, what do you
mean teaching school (teaching poetry and
poetry writing and wasting your time painting
sober little organic, meaningful pictures)
when values thought lost (but only scrambled into
disengagement) lie around demolished
and centerless because you (that's me, boy)
haven't elaborated everything in everybody's
face, yet...

Originally Published: August 15th, 2008

Don Share became the editor of Poetry in 2013. His books of poetry are Wishbone (2012), Squandermania (2007), and Union (2013, 2002). He is the co-editor of The Open Door: 100 Poems, 100 Years of Poetry Magazine (2012), and editor of Bunting's Persia (2012) and a critical edition of Basil Bunting's poems (2016). He...

  1. August 16, 2008
     Jim K

    very evocative pic! Brings many images to mind.

  2. August 17, 2008
     bill knott

    . . . how something-or-other it is that even the most gifted poets are forced to present justifications for their practice . . . as you show Ammons doing here––
    i know they *enjoy* doing this, like bottoms in s and m find pleasure in their humiliations . . .
    but sometimes it seems like half of what poets write is apology/defense of their right to write,
    or else to write in the way they wish to write––
    it's as if they must continuallty make excuses for doing what they do,
    constantly offering up exculpatory rationalizations for their foolishness in persisting in the vain pursuit of this most worthless,
    most despised of the arts, poetry,
    the least compensated and rewarded art––
    in the caste system of the Arts, poets are the lowest––
    so even Ammons has to stuff his verse with these pleas for forbearance, begging his society/culture to please please
    allow him to––

  3. August 19, 2008

    The picture reproduced here is so unwatercolorlike that it makes me wonder about his technique?
    As per Bill Knott, the ars poetica has too long a history to be a product of our cultural moment, though in low moments I agree about the lowliness of poetry. Yet humanity pursues many lowly pursuits with long histories. Like, um....painting vases..

  4. August 20, 2008
     John Latta

    A. R. Ammons used colored inks (Pelikan, maybe? I recall I bought some after seeing a show of the works, in little bottles with squeeze-droppered unscrewabel tops–I wanted to see if I could duplicate some of the effects and ended up making a mess). I think the Ithaca House Gallery had a show of some of the inks: $300 apiece. And, later, Cornell’s Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art displayed a number, a large white gallery full, where they looked splendid. Ammons apparently churned the works out in huge numbers, saying he had stacks and stacks of them filling a closet. He also, rather touchingly, did some small ones (about the size of a stenographer’s notebook, or smaller, if I recall rightly), and offered them for sale at $15 apiece. He thought maybe some of the graduate students might want them. (I’m surprised to see the figurative inks included in the slideshow: I only recall seeing abstracts, mostly involving “drips” and “runs” of ink against more solid panels of colors. Though I do still have, I think, one of the smaller ones–a dud–totally gone to mud, with the score of some NFL game written in ink against it: Cowboys 21, Steelers, 6, or something.)

  5. August 24, 2008
     Janusz Czubakowski

    how does anyone out there feel about metrical poetry, with capitalized letters to start each line?
    I do mean poetry written now, not 50 yrs. ago. Also (I'm ducking already), is it possible every volume of poetry put out in recent years is ground-breaking, insightful, humorous etc.? I wd. appreciate informed replies, even if they disagree. it's lonely out here thanks..

  6. August 24, 2008
     Michael Robbins

    Lots of terrific metrical poetry is being written all the time -- check out Paul Muldoon, for instance, although he does tend to play it loose. Geoffrey Hill & Christopher Logue are wizards of blank verse. You'll note that these are all UK examples. I'm sure there's a historical reason for this, having to do with Whitman, no doubt.
    As for capitalized first lines, lots of people do this, some of them writing in meter, some not. I've always wondered when EXACTLY this practice was more or less abandoned. Can any Harrieteer point me to a precise moment or two, e.g. on or about?
    The dread Rothenberg-Eshelman axis, mistaking meter for bourgeois-rationalist instrumentality, is pretty safely ensconced in the footnotes of UCSD dissertations by now.