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Updated Up To 18/01/2017
Volume 9, Issue 1 (October 2011) : 153-75
A. R. Ammons’s Levity

Frank Kearful
Rubric A: Literature and the Ideas of Space
Rubric B: American Poetry



You can locate A. R. Ammons in a line of great walkers from Wordsworth to Frank O’Hara, but what makes him different from all the rest is that despite being so peripatetic, he could not keep his feet on the ground. In poem after poem he, or a stand-in protagonist, not only turns, spins, and whirls, but rises, ascends, levitates. Thereafter comes in due course a descent, sometimes an arduous or scarifying one, but which typically finds him the better off after his return to terra firma. Levity in the transferred sense – Ammons was a whimsical, voluble, unbuttoned humorist – proves useful in contending with the perilous consequences of his levitations. In addition to his drollery, Ammons sporadically employs a prophetic voice, meditates on philosophical issues, and delves expertly into phenomena privy to the natural scientist. The composite result is a style of levity entirely his own. The extent to which he may, as a consequence of his levity, or in spite of it, be enrolled in a transcendentalist tradition of the visionary sublime stretching back to Emerson, as Harold Bloom would have it, is debatable. Five poems examined very closely give a slant on the issues involved, “Moment,” “Transcendence,” “He Held Radical Light,” “Levitation,” and “Hymn.” Other Ammons poems are discussed briefly, and incidental comparisons are made to poems  by Walt Whitman, Wallace Stevens, Theodore Roethke, Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Lowell, Sylvia Plath, and John Ashbery.

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