Sumerian Vistas

by A. R. Ammons
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Sumerian Vistas

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 418

With fifteen volumes and four collected editions of his poetry published in the past thirty-two years, and a number of national prizes to his credit, A.R. Ammons is one of America’s most prolific and honored poets. SUMERIAN VISTAS, his latest volume, contains few surprises for readers familiar with his earlier work, but overall it does strike a somewhat more mellow and contented tone as Ammons reaches the age of sixty-one.

Ammons is well-known for two types of poems--long meditative rambles and short, concentrated lyrics--and SUMERIAN VISTAS contains fine achievements in both forms. “The Ridge Farm,” the thirty-eight-page poem which begins the book, however, is not among his most vivid efforts. The poem is least impressive when Ammons is most didactic, lecturing a fellow poet (and, by extension, the reader) on the familiar polarities of his work: the tensions between form and expansiveness, abstraction and concreteness, unity and plurality, matter and spirit, reality and the imagination. Though garrulous, “The Ridge Farm” nevertheless performs the service of introducing new readers to Ammons’ poetic theories, and it firmly establishes the geographical and imaginative terrain of the book as a whole. Ammons’ late-winter walks uphill to the ridge farm become a metaphor for his attraction to the feelings of uplift with which nature sometimes rewards man’s spiritual strivings, and his delight in perceiving instances of growth and motion in contrast to the stasis of winter becomes a metaphor for the subtle “swerves” of mind and language, moving out of static attitudes and forms, that he values in his verse.

“Tombstones” is more impressive: a ten-page meditation in which Ammons sustains a rich interplay of thought and feeling while musing on the ways in which time and nature blur and eventually obliterate the attempts at remembrance represented in a set of gravestones.

The most rewarding poetry in the book, however, is contained in the third section, “Motion’s Holdings,” where specific experiences with the natural phenomena of animals, rivers, birds, and even the shadows of leaves (as well as experiences with other people in the form of doctors and loved ones) provide Ammons with the occasions for splendid short lyrics. Though Ammons sometimes expresses despair at the destructive effects of civilization on his beloved nature, or at the voids of occasional spiritual emptiness and approaching death in his own life, the predominant note of SUMERIAN VISTAS is one of humorous bemusement at the unexpected movement and energies of life, which often issue in wonderful moments of balance, satisfaction, and poetry.

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