Poetry News

John Latta on A. R. Ammons to Denise Levertov on Hugh Kenner re: Yvor Winters

By Harriet Staff

ammons card

The most current Chicago Review, 57 1/2, is a special double issue dedicated to poet A. R. Ammons. Featuring "a selection of previously unpublished poems and a historical dossier including an unpublished interview, prose, and correspondence...accompanied by new critical and historical essays on Ammons by Susan Stewart, John Wilkinson, Simon Jarvis, Andrew Zawacki, Kevin McGuirk, and Roger Gilbert." Also on Ammons is Isola di Rifiuti's John Latta, who looks at a corner of CR wherein "There’s that terrific thing A. R. Ammons quotes to Denise Levertov in a letter (2 September 1963)...Hugh Kenner talking about Yvor Winters’s 'Fallacy of Expressive or Imitative Form'”:

Re Winters, I think he’s simply rationalizing his distress at non-reusable forms. His mind runs toward packaging, and a “form,” to his way of thinking, comes from Container Corp. All ad hoc formalities are Imitative and therefore Fallacious. Look up Williams’ poem about the cat stepping among the jamjars; and note that it contains, exactly, a single declarative sentence, which printed as prose would serve as its paraphrase; but that the poem, despite the fact that it contains the same words in the same order as its paraphrase is not identical with its paraphrase; and the difference between the two is what I call the poem’s form. Nothing to do with stanza pattern or lineation, though these serve as indications that one doesn’t look at the sentence but at the poem. Difference rather of direction. The sentence records information; the poem on the contrary enacts, i.e. gets from its own beginning to its own ending with the same gingerly efficiency as that cat dislodging nothing. . . .

More from Latta:

Pertinent, too, is Ammons’s “canto”—later called “Identity”—that he quotes and writes of (5 September 1962) to Levertov (who’s beginning to accumulate and arrange lines for the 1965 essay “Some Notes on Organic Form”—“I see craftsmanship not as an ability to plan campaigns but as being able to jump the right way in all the unguessable emergencies of writing”). Ammons, of “Identity”:

One of the submerged metaphors in the poem applies to writing poet, though the poem is really about any form of knowledge, experience, or existence. Texture, though, fits nicely in the texture of the web: the problem of pre-setting order is mentioned, and whether order shouldn’t be realized from the surroundings, the freest medium accepting the firmest order. . . .

1)   an individual spider web
               identifies a species:

an order of instinct prevails
        through all accidents of circumstance,

                though possibility is
high along the peripheries of
                        you can go all
                around the fringing attachments

                and find
disorder ripe,
entropy rich, high levels of random,
        occasions of accident:

        2)   the possible settings
                of a web are infinite:

                        if the web were perfectly pre-set,
                        the spider could
        never find
        a perfect place to set it in: and

                        if the web were
perfectly adaptable,
if freedom and possibility were without limit,
                        the web would
lose its special identity:

        the row-strung garden web

keeps order at the center
where space is freest (interesting that the freest
                “medium” should
                accept the firmest order)

and that
                        diminishes toward the
        allowing at the points of contact
                        entropy equal to entropy:

I think the web here is the constellation you mention. I call it a “field” as Olson, I think, does—using the scientific meaning of classical vs quantum fields. Fields of order occur out of random: it’s the freedom to occur from disorder that makes possible new fields, new things in new fields. If we imposed upon random a classical field then we would violate to some extent the actual, total operation of the field. This is an old, old problem, and it applies to so many areas, and is actually the central problem of my cantos. . . .

Read it all here.

Originally Published: October 30th, 2012