“How a thing will / unfold”:

Fractal Rhythms in A. R. Ammons’s Briefings

Marjorie Perloff

published in Complexities of Motion: A.R. Ammons’s Longer Poems, ed. Steven P. Schnedier (Fairleigh Dickinson press, 1998), pp. 68-82.


Briefings: Poems Small and Easy (Norton 1971), singled out by Harold Bloom as Ammons’s “finest book,”[1] is also, I think, his most enigmatic.  To begin with, its eighty-eight poems do not really constitute a “new” book; they were written over a period of twenty years, as their arrangement in the Collected Poems 1951-71 testifies.  In that volume (Norton 1972), the Briefings poems are included in four chronological groupings: 1951-55; 1955-60; 1961-65; 1966-71.  And although the majority (sixty of the eighty-eight) Briefings poems come from the fourth of these periods, twenty-two (exactly one quarter) come from ‘61-’65, and there are four poems from the early fifties, two from the later.  More confusing: why does Ammons include these and not other of the earlier poems, given that the ones chosen are neither, as every critic has remarked, “easy,” nor are they especially “small.”  “Return” (B, 19-21) for example, has 45 lines;  Collected Poems 1951-1971 has any number of poems much shorter than this one that are omitted from Briefings. Why?

But there is a further mystery.  The eighty-eight poems, not so small and not so easy, that constitute Briefings are arranged alphabetically by first lines.  I have not seen a single reference to this decidedly odd phenomenon, but surely the poet knew what he was about when he began with “A bird fills up the,” followed by “A clover blossom’s a province;” “A clown kite, my,”  “After yesterday,” and “A leaf fallen is” and concluded with “Yes but,” “You’re sick,” and “You would think I’d be a specialist in contemporary.” Interestingly, the final poem, the famous “The City Limits” stands outside this alphabetical scheme (It begins with “When”), just as, I shall argue later, it stands outside the particular paradigms that characterize Briefings.

Between pages 33 and 56 of this 105-page book, the “I”s have it:  from the “I can’t decide whether” of “Circles” to the “I wonder what I should do now” of “Looking Over the Acreage,” nineteen poems begin with “I,” as in “I hope,” “I hold,” “ I look,” “I make.”  This emphasis on the subject may seem peculiar, given Ammons’s fabled reticence and modesty. But we should note further that the “I” is actually placed slightly off-center so far as the countdown of poems goes.  Then, too, the titles offset these intimate opening lines: “I hold you responsible for” is the first line of “Hymn IV,”  “I hope I’m / not right,” the first line of “The Mark.”  The abstract, impersonal titles frame those delicate personal observations, as if to say, watch out, you can express emotion but in the larger scheme of things, private feeling may not matter much.

“The flight from form,” says Stephen B. Cushman in a consideration of verse form and metrics in Ammons’s poetry, “is constant and the refuge in form temporary.”  And again, “Ammons’s stanzas have little or no logical integrity”; they “appear to challenge the Romantic myth of organicism.”[2] Etymologically, he suggests, a stanza is a stopping place,  but for Ammons, there are no full stops, only sites for speeding and slowing down.[3] At the same time, as Cushman notes, the “need for form remains acute”; hence the ubiquitousness of the “left-justified stychic column” of verse,[4] a form whose stability overcomes its many variations.

Cushman is on to something important here.  But he does not look closely at the prosodic particulars of Ammons’s poems, nor at the larger structures into which those left-justified stychic columns are organized.  In this essay I propose to look at those relationships in Briefings, reading this volume as one long poem rather than as a miscellany of occasional lyrics or of anthology pieces like “Circles” and “The City Limits.”   Ammons’s curious particularism, I want to suggest, goes hand in hand with a quasi-Oulippean concern for mathematical structure–a structure by no means characteristic of the Emersonian tradition in which Ammons is regularly placed.

Consider the opening poem “Center,” whose verse form sets the stage for what is to come, as the following scansion[5] may help to show:

x   /    /    /    x   >

A bird fills up the

/     /     /

streamside bush

x        /    x      /

with wasteful song,

/   / x   /  x   /

capsizes waterfall,

/    /   |  x   >

mill run, and

/  x    /    /

superhighway

x   >

to

/        x     /  x  x    >

song’s improvident

/   x

center

/    x     x     /       >

lost in the green

/    |   /     >

bush green

/     x    x     /

answering bush:

/      /   x

wind varies:

x      /    /    /    >

the noon sun casts

/   |    x   /   x

mesh refractions

x    x        /        /    x >

on the stream’s amber

/   x

bottom

x     /    x   x   /    /

and nothing at all gets,

/    x    /   >

nothing gets

/     x   /

caught at all.

(B, 1)

“The given,”  Harold Bloom comments on this poem, “is mesh that cannot catch because the particulars have been capsized, and so are unavailable for capture.  The center is improvident because it stands at the midmost point of mind, not of nature.”[6] And Linda Orr adds, “The final sentence has a spare beauty.  Clearly at the end no more general correspondence will emerge beside that of bush to bush.”[7] My own reading would be more literal:  like “Ode to a Nightingale,” Ammons’s poem tracks the movement of a bird as it gradually flies out of sight.  From the initial vantage point of a “streamside bush,” the bird’s song, like the Solitary Reaper’s, generously, indeed “wastefully,” dominates and “centers” the scene of waterfall, mill run, and superhighway below, and the green bushes seem to echo its music.  But then “wind varies,” the bird vanishes, and only the “mesh refractions” of the “noon sun” are reflected “on the stream’s amber / bottom.”  The reflection, of course, changes minute by minute, so that, to the observer looking at the stream and listening for the lost bird song, it appears that “nothing gets / caught at all.”

If this is a familiar Romantic topos, Ammons succeeds in making it quite new.   It is the sound structure rather than any novelty of image or even voicing that makes the poem so distinctive.  For here is a twenty-line free verse lyric called “Center,” in which the “center” is decentered by being cited in line 9 and, more important, is deconstructed by the poem’s refusal of sound repetition.  As my scansion shows (and the same holds true even if some of my secondary stresses could be considered primary), there are, within the poem’s twenty-line compass, only two lines with the same prosodic structure– “center” (line 9) and “bottom” (line 17).  Everything else is amorphous and jagged:  there are no repeated rhythmic groupings, no consistency of enjambment or of caesurae.  The logical conclusion would be that the poem is “prosaic”–prose cut up into line lengths– but that would not be accurate either for the discourse is hardly that of prose.  For one thing, antecedents are often unclear as in the case of line 10, “lost in the green,” where “lost” may modify “center” or “song.”  In lines 10-12, the lineation creates an echo structure where the bird song creates the illusion of green bush answering green bush.  And line 18, “and nothing at all gets,” seems transitive (i.e., “the noon sun . . . nothing at all gets”) until, in its second appearance, “gets” is completed by “caught.”

Lineation, as is generally the case in Ammons’s poetry, works to defamiliarize the most ordinary processes.  “A bird fills up the,” “mill run, and” :  here article and conjunction are left hanging.  But Ammons’s is not the suspension system of a William Carlos Williams, despite the many references to Williams in his lyric, of which more below.   A Williams poem like “As the cat” moves swiftly and surely, tracking the cat’s deliberate movements as it finally steps “into the pit / of the empty / flowerpot.” Ammons’s bird poem, in contrast, doesn’t “go” anywhere; on the contrary, it shifts back and forth somewhat uneasily between the concrete (“streamside bush”) and the abstract (“song’s improvident / center”), as if the phenomenology of vision were not to be trusted.  The stumbling utterance “and nothing at all gets, / nothing gets / caught at all” that concludes the poem testifies to an inability to “make it cohere” that is a kind of Ammons trademark.    A poet who longs for the center, who wants to get to the “bottom” of things, to find a cohesion between bird and bush, sun and stream, this “spent seer” is always “caught” short.

In one of his rare statements on verse form, the 1963 “Note on Prosody,”[8] Ammons remarks that his aim is to shift emphasis “from the ends of the lines . . . toward the left-hand margin.”   In the case of a couplet like

and the mountain

pleased

for example,  “ mountain is played down,” because it is followed by the heavy stress that falls on “pleased”: “pleased, being one sound, has no beginning or end.”  Accordingly “a slightly stronger than usual emphasis is given to and.”  By shifting from right to left, the poet contends, “The center of gravity is an imaginary point existing between the two points of beginning and end, so that a downward pull is created that gives a certain downward rush to the movement, something like a waterfall glancing in turn off opposite sides of the canyon, something like the right and left turns of a river.”[9] And this “downward swing,” Ammons concludes, suggests “that a nonlinear movement is possible,” the vertical movement from top to bottom replacing the “normal” left-to- right pull of the individual line.

The emphasis on line beginnings rather than endings accords perfectly with the quirky alphabetizing of first lines in Briefings.  But the “downward rush” of the verbal “waterfall” is countered, more than Ammons would like us to think, by the broken textures I have described in “Center.”  “A poem,” Ammons declares, “is a linguistic correction of disorder”; “multiplicity is accumulated into symmetry.”[10] And Harold Bloom seems to accept this notion when he writes, with reference to the line “the overall endures” in Saliences,  “Overall remains beyond Ammons, but is replaced by “‘a round / quiet turning / beyond loss or gain, / beyond concern for the separate reach’,” the “assertion of the mind’s power over the particulars of being, the universe of death.”[11]

But this is not quite what happens, at least not in “Center.”  The “mind’s power over particulars” is asserted by what we might call the alpha game: as the first poem in Briefings, “Center” not only begins with “A” but even with “A” plus “b” for “bird,” and it ends with two more “a” words: “at all.”  Alliteration–”bird”/ “bush”; “with”/ “wasteful” / “waterfall”–is at first reassuring, but by the time we reach that last “all,” with its rhyme on “waterfall” sixteen lines earlier, the center has simply not held.  Who would have thought, for example, that seemingly identical lines–say, three-syllable lines like “streamside bush” (2) and “mill run, and” (5) could be so distinct?   Substitute a conjunction for a monosyllabic noun and you necessarily create a pause with a slight caesura.  “Wind varies” (line 13), everything varies, and “nothing gets / caught at all.”  So much for the poem as “linguistic correction of disorder.”

Indeed, Ammons’s overt poetics are curiously at odds with his actual poems.  He is given to generalizations about the Coleridgean “balance or reconciliation of opposite or discordant qualities,” the “accumulation” of “multiplicity . . . “into symmetry,”  and his theory of language is resolutely classical:  there is a “reality” out there  and “our language [is a] reflection of it.”[12] But reflection theory is belied by what we might call Ammons’s metrics of difference.  The stychic column is a pseudo-column, each line differing from its predecessor, as in

x     /      /     /   >

the noon sun casts

/   |  x   /    x

mesh refractions

where one four-syllable line is followed by another that couldn’t sound more different.   The same process occurs in the fifth “A” poem, which bears the colorless title “Event”:

x   /    /  x    /      >

A leaf fallen is

/  x

fallen

x     /      x   /  x  /

throughout the universe

/

and

x      x   /    x    x    >

from the instant of

x    /  |   /   >

its fall, for

/     /      /

all time gone

x    x    /

and to come:

/        /   x  /   >

worlds jiggle in

/    |    /  >

webs, drub

x    /    /

in leaf lakes,

/   x  /   >

squiggle in

/     x     /    / x

drops of ditchwater:

/     x      /    >

size and place

/  x   /

begin, end,

/     x   x  /

time is allowed

x /  /      /    /

in event’s instant:

x  /   x    >

away or

x     /   |  / x   /    x    >

at home, universe and

/    /    >

leaf try

x   /   || x  /

to fall:  occur.

Again,  the poem is notable for its variability of linear structure,  made manifest especially in its “containment” by a seemingly larger order, in this case the stanzaic division into 8-5-8 line units.  The “event” in these pseudo-stanzas often takes place at the level of phoneme and morpheme: as I was typing the lines, I wrote line 9 as “words” rather than “worlds jiggle,” line 11 as “in leaf flakes,” and line [13] as “drops of dishwater,” inadvertently naturalizing the words so as to fit into their normal syntactic slots.  Paragram is the operative poetic principle:  “fall” as in “leaf fallen,” repeated three times in the short first stanza and once in the third, contains “all,” the “in” in “jiggle in” reappears two lines later in “in leaf lakes,” then in the rhyming “squiggle in,”  and finally twice “in event’s instant.”

The poem’s vocabulary is rigorously restricted, indeed almost aphasic: “is,” “and” “its,” “for,” “to,” “is,” “or.”  At first the witness of the “event” seems frozen, tongue-tied: “A leaf fallen is  / fallen.”  A not very interesting tautology.  “Fallen / throughout the universe” doesn’t help; it sounds at first merely pretentious, a kind of reductive update of Gerard Manley Hopkins’s “Spring and Fall” (“Margaret, are you grieving / Over Golden Grove unleaving”).  But the last two lines of the stanza, “all time gone / and to come,”  with their Biblical echo, introduce the cycle we thought could not be there:  what is “gone” will come back, as we surmise from the sound itself: the substitution of one nasal for another, one voiceless stop (/k/) for another (/g/) produces the desired turn.

But turn to what?  The nursery rhyme effect of the “jiggle in” / ‘squiggle in” is offset by line 10, with its two harsh stressed syllables, broken by a caesura: “webs, / drub.”   What Hopkins referred to as “worlds of wanwood leafmeal” here becomes a kind of compost pile made up of wet leaves (“leaf lakes”), ditchwater, and cobwebs or spiderwebs; a dirt mound that seems to contain a living being, drubbing about inside it.  But Ammons does not dwell on the sensuous; the specificity of “webs, drub” quickly gives way to the bleakest of abstractions: “size and place / begin, end”–again, like “A leaf fallen is / fallen” a peculiar truism.  “Time,” we read, “is allowed / in event’s instant,”  There’s a special providence, it seems, in the fall of a leaf,” the poet recognizing that “event’s instant” is actually a form of motion, that there is no stasis in nature.  When the “instant” occurs, the “event” is over; indeed, there is no “event,” just a lot of ongoing small changes.  In the end we learn that “universe and / leaf try / to fall.”  Is the leaf’s fall then volitional, and if so, how?  The poet catches himself up and realizes all that he can say is “to fall:  occur”:   the two iambs on either side of the mid-line caesura match, suggesting that these things do occur, that nothing remains the same, that the “event’s instant” destroys the event, the defining moment.  And the colon throws the meaning forward:  “for / all time gone / and to come”  is now understood to be too stagy, too grandiose for a meaningful recognition of the way things are, the ways they “occur.”

The concern of “event’s instant,” exhibited here and elsewhere in Ammons’s poetry has, I think, a particular analogue in contemporary chaos theory.  “Why,” asks Benoit Mandelbrot in the opening of his Fractal Geometry of Nature, “is geometry often described as ‘cold’ and ‘dry?’  One reason lies in its inability to describe the shape of a cloud, a mountain, a coastline, or a tree.  Clouds are not spheres, mountains are not cones, coastlines are not circles, and bark is not smooth, nor does lightning travel in a straight line. . . . Nature exhibits not simply a higher degree but an altogether different level of complexity. . . . .The existence of these patterns challenges us to study those forms that Euclid leaves aside as being ‘formless,’ to investigate the morphology of the ‘amorphous.’”13 Thus the length of a curve–say, the length of the coastline of Britain, to take Mandelbrot’s famous example, will vary according to what principle of measurement we apply to it.  Far from being the total of individual segments of coast line, length varies according to the scale of units to be included: the greater the detail, which is to say, the smaller the measurable sub-bays and sub-peninsulas, the greater the difficulty in assigning anything like a “true length” to the coast line’s curve.[14]

Ammons’s poetry does not contain overt references to fractals; his “telescopic and microscopic vision,” as Steven P. Schneider calls it in his fine study of the poet as scientist, focuses more immediately on astronomy and biology, especially on the equilibrium of the ecosystem.[15] But whether directly or indirectly, his poetry testifies to the fractal geometer’s concern for the “morphology of the amorphous”–the tiny and oddly shaped bay that transforms a coastline, the minute triangular crystals that make up a snowflake–a flake that appears from a distance to be merely a round blob.  And the special fascination of Briefings is the way external “form”–the “alphabetical Ithaca” of the arrangement of the sequence, the abstraction and universality of the volume’s representative titles  (“Event,”  “Mechanics,” “Increment,” “Two Possibilities,”  “Attention,” “Return,” “Civics,” “Circles,” “Locus”),  the visual shapeliness of the stanzas, and the reassuring repetition of key words like “center,” “circle,” “light,” “radiance,” “wind,” “leaf,” and “green”– is consistently undercut by the observation of “fractals” that throw the “normal” view of what is seen and perceived off balance.   Ammons’s is thus a Romantic nature vision with a difference.  He is not so much the “spent seer,” as the post-World War II poet-scientist who takes nothing for granted.

We can see this especially clearly when we compare one of Ammons’s homage-poems to William Carlos Williams (“WCW”) to a precursor like Williams’s own “Spring Storm”:

x    /    x     /  x  /  x   >

The sky has given over

/    /  x    /

its bitterness.

/    x   x    /        /

Out of the dark change

/     /     /

all day long

/       /      x     /

rain falls and falls

x   /  x    /    /    x   /

as if it would never end.

/     x      /      /        >

Still the snow keeps

x     /   /   x      /

its hold on the ground.

/       /  x    /   x

But water, water

/    x     /  x        /     x

from a thousand runnels!

x   /  /       /     x

It collects swiftly,

/    x    /       /

dappled with black

/    x   /   x    x   /

cuts a way for itself

x         /      /   x   x    /    x

through green ice in the gutters.

/  x   x    /     x   /

Drop after drop it falls

x     x     /     x      /        /

from the withered grass-stems

x    x   /  x  /    x      x    /     x

of the overhanging embankment.[16]

Williams’s “free verse” poem (1920) is actually written in three-stress lines.  Syllables range from three to nine, but the basic three-stress rhythm, the forward thrust from line to line propels us forward to the conclusion of that extra-long cacophonous line, “of the overhanging embankment.”  Each line in Williams’s suspension system is at once independent and anticipatory. The lines are only rarely fully enjambed (as in lines 1-2), but the structure of fulfillment operates throughout.   Question: what is it that happens “all day long”?  Answer: “rain falls and falls.”  How does it fall?  Answer: “as if it would never end.”  “But water, water” . . . from where?  Answer:  “from a thousand runnels!”   This is a “free verse” still highly structured and characterized by its continuity.

Now compare Ammons’s “WCW”:

x  /        /       >

I turned in

x   x      /    /

by the bayshore

x     /

and parked,

x      /     /    >

the crosswind

/   x    /   /    >

hitting me hard

/    x     /

side the head,

x    /       /     x

the bay scrappy

x     /     x

and working:

/    x    >

what a

/    x    /     >

way to read

/    x     ||   /    >

Williams!  till

x   /    x    /

a woman came

x     /            >

and turned

x    /    /    /

her red dog loo se

x     /

to sniff

x     /    >

(and piss

/

on)

x     /     /      /

the dead horseshoe

/

crabs.

The variability of stress is much greater here, even similar units like “and turned,” “(and piss,” being differentiated by punctuation  and syntax: the opening parenthesis and enjambment of “(and piss / on” changing the tempo ever so slightly.  More important: whereas Williams uses a good bit of repetition (“rain falls and falls,” “But water, water,”  “Drop after drop it falls”), Ammons repeats almost nothing, deforms syntax (“hitting me hard / side the head”),  and prefers consonance to assonance, as in those guttural final “d’s” in “turned” (the only word used twice), “parked,”  “crosswind,” “hard,” “side the head,” “read,” “red,” and “dead.”   Ten of the poem’s forty-six words (one quarter) end with “d,” culminating in the “dead” horseshoe / crabs” of the last two lines.  So death has been anticipated from the first “turned.”  And the discordant final line, “crabs” stands out in bold relief against the internal chiming of “Williams ! till” and “sniff / (and piss.”

Again, then, a poem without center that tries to capture the particular mood of loneliness, ugliness, the instinctive anticipation of death.   Briefings contains many such, with enigmatic titles like “Making,” “Countering,” and “Square,” the latter eleven-line lyric as “unsquare” as possible (see B, 80).  But what about the poem that concludes Briefings,
“The City Limits” (B, 105)?  As I remarked earlier, this is the only of the eighty-eight poems outside the alphabet system, its first line, beginning with a “W” (“When you consider the radiance”), whereas the three preceding poems are “Y” lyrics.  And not only is “The City Limits” thus a kind of epilogue rather than a part of the sequence; it is much more orderly than Ammons’s other poems “small and easy,” consisting of one long sentence broken into six open tercets, with a great deal of repetition (especially of “when you consider”), and a slow stately rhythm (six or seven stresses per line), culminating in the final iambic heptameter:

x   /      /    x    x      /       x    /       /    x    /      x     /

and fear lit by the breadth of such calmly turns to praise.

Most of Ammons’s critics concur that this “majestic” poem, as Bloom calls it (CHE 31), is one of Ammons’s finest.  Richard Howard typically calls it “the greatest poem in this latest book” [Briefings], and comments that it “ends with the acknowledgement that each thing is merely what it is, and all that can be transcended is our desire for each thing to be more than what it is, so that for such a consideration of the losses of being, the very being of loss, ‘fear lit by the breadth of such calmly turns to praise’.”[17] And David Kalstone praises the poem’s “wonderfully sustained rhetorical structure almost like that of the most controlled and contemplative of Shakespeare’s sonnets.”[18]
This is an odd sort of compliment, for Ammons’s  poetics, after all, are wholly at odds with the “sustained rhetorical structure” of a Shakespeare sonnet.   “If fear ever turns ‘calmly’ to anything,” remarks Robert Pinsky in one of the few dissenting views of “The City Limits,” “being ‘of a tune with May bushes’ is a lamely rhetorical motive for such turning, especially given the sinister cancerous implications of ‘the dark work of the deepest cells’.”[19] And one might add that the very rhythm and neat tercet structure, along with the five-fold repetition of “When you consider,” gives “The City Limits” a willed air, as if to say, yes, I am an Emersonian poet and should therefore talk of the mysterious “radiance, that . . . does not withhold itself,” although it cannot penetrate the “overhung or hidden.”   I should present the epiphany that makes “the heart move roomier,” and “fear” somehow  (I agree with Pinsky that it’s not at all clear how) “calmly turn to praise.”

What role, then, does “The City Limits” play in Briefings?  My own hunch is that Ammons feared his poems “small and easy” might be perceived as too slight, too trivial.  After all, poems like “Center” and “Event” don’t have “great themes,” they don’t challenge the reader to “Consider”  the truths of the natural and transcendent world.  I would guess that the poet had already arranged all the other lyrics in order, culminating in the two “You” poems,  “The Run-Through” and “The Put Down Come on.”  The latter poem has the long lines and stanzaic structure of “City Limits” but takes a gingerly approach to transcendence, recognizing that “Only a little of that kind of thinking flashes through” (B, 104).  At this point, evidently, Ammons lost his nerve and wanted a wrap-up poem, replete with pun (as in the title), symbol, and metaphor.  And so enthusiastic was the response of the poet’s leading critics and supporters, that as time went on, Roethke-esque poems like “Hibernaculum” sometimes crowd out their more modest but more satisfying neighbors.    Consider the twenty-line “Locus,”  which begins:

Here

it is

the middle of April

(and a day or so more)    (B, 32)

The seasonal cycle is measured by arithmetic progression:  1, 2, 4, 6 (the word count) combines multiples of 2 with Fibbonaci numbers ( 2 + 4 = 6).  These multipliers matter because the poet is terrified by the time gap, as represented by the “small oak / down in / the / hollow,” which “is / lit up (winter-burned, ice-gold / leaves on) / at sundown, / ruin transfigured to / stillest shining.”

But those moments of “stillest shining” (the “radiance” of “City Limits”) have to be given up.  “Locus” concludes:

I let it as center

go

and

can’t believe

our peripheral

speed.

“Peripheral speed” must be accepted.   And when one stops “consider[ing] the radiance” of what is pointed to, words become themselves radiant.

“Let”–”center”–”can’t” form a triad; “and”–”can’t” a column of near-rhymes.  So small are the words that “peripheral,” with its four syllables stands out.  But what is most striking in this little stanza is that isolated word “go” after “center,”  suggesting that the “form of a motion” never comes to rest.   Go:  it is the “locus” (again, a rhyme) of what Ammons called his “nonlinear movement,” the recognition that, as the poet puts it in “Two Possibilities”:

Coming out of the earth and going

into the earth compose

an interval or arc where

what to do’s

difficult to fix     (B, 11)

Footnotes


[1]
Harold Bloom,” When You Consider the Radiance,” The Ringers in the Tower (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1971), p. 286.   This essay is reprinted as the Introduction to A. R. Ammons: Modern Critical Views (New York: Chelsea House,  1986), pp. 1-31.

[2]
Stephen B. Cushman, “Stanzas, Organic Myth, and the Metaformalism of A. R. Ammons,” American Literature 59, no. 4 (December 1987): 514-15.

[3]
Cushman, “Stanzas, Organic Myth, and the Metaformalism of A. R. Ammons,” 521.

[4]
Cushman, “Stanzas, Organic Myth, and the Metaformalism of A. R. Ammons, 513.

[5]
In what follows, I use the following scansion marks, adapted from George Trager and Henry Le Smith Jr. in  An Outline of English Structure (Washington, D.C.: American Council of Learned Societies, 1957):/  syllable with primary stress

/  syllable with secondary stress, as in a compound noun like “blackbird”

x  unstressed syllable

|  pause

||                    caesura or heavy pause

>  enjambed line


[6]
Bloom, “When You Consider the Radiance,” p. 29.

[7]
Linda Orr, “The Cosmic Backyard of A. R. Ammons,” Diacritics 3 (Winter 1973); rpt. CHE, 135.

[8]
A. R. Ammons, “A Note on Prosody,” Poetry, 203, no. 3 (June 1963): 202-3; rpt. in Ammons, Set in Motion: Essays, Interviews, & Dialogues, ed. Zofia Burr  (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1996), pp. 6-7.  Subsequently cited in the text as SIM.

[9]
Ammons, “A Note of Prosody,” p. 7.

[10]
Ammons, “A Note on Incongruence,” Epoch 15 (Winter 1966): 192; rpt. in SIM, 8-9.

[11]
Bloom, “When You Consider the Radiance,” p. 20.

[12]
See Ammons, Set in Motion, pp. 13, 8-9.

[13]
Benoit B. Mandelbrot, The Fractal Geometry of Nature (New York: W. H. Freeman & Co, 1983), p. 1.

[14]
Mandelbrot, The Fractal Geometry of Nature, pp. 25-26.

[15]
Steven P. Schneider, A. R. Ammons and the Poetics of Widening Scope (Rutherford: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1994); see esp. Chapter 4.

[16]
William Carlos Williams, “Spring Storm,” The Collected Poems of William Carlos Williams. Volume I, 1909-1939, ed. A. Walton Litz & Christopher MacGowan  (New York: New Directions, 1986), pp 154-55.

[17]
Richard Howard, “‘The Spent Seer Consigns Order to the Vehicle of Change,’”  Alone with America (New York: Atheneum, 1980), rpt.in Bloom, A. R. Ammons, pp. 33-56; see p. 53.

[18]
David Kalstone, “Ammons’ Radiant Toys,” Diacritics 3 (Winter 1973); rpt. in Bloom, A. R. Ammons, pp. 99-116; see p. 116.

[19]
Robert Pinsky, “Ammons,” The Situation of Poetry (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1976); rpt. in Bloom, A. R. Ammons, pp. 185-194, see p. 191.