Measured Speech

A maritime artist I know tells me that he once met an eminent critic who claimed to have given up the brush and taken up the pen because he had won all the prizes in art school. Those laurels must be testimony that he was washed up—how could an artist of genuine importance, he despaired, possibly satisfy the reigning tastes of his era?

If the poet A.R. Ammons were to follow the art critic's reasoning, he'd instantly cease composing verse and begin discoursing on, say, "constellations of intention in Ginsberg's early poetry." Ammons has won all the prizes—the Bollingen, the MacArthur, the National Book Award—and holds an endowed chair at Cornell University. Influential literary critics like Harold Bloom of Yale and Helen Vendler of Harvard extoll him.

And yet, improbable as it may seem to those accustomed to challenging the decisions of our literary Supreme Court, we should be thankful indeed that A.R. Ammons has not allowed praise to silence his art. The critics, to my mind, are quite on the mark in calling him one of the very best of our living poets. I would only add what seems to me, these days, just as important: he composes remarkably accessible poems.

Ammons writes from a deep familiarity with the natural world. He is not content simply to offer a moody response to a landscape. He must watch things move and mark the interplay of wild animals, evergreens, hillsides,...

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