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2019

NORTH CAROLINA L I T E R A R Y RE V I E W

COURTESY OF THE AMMONS ESTATE AND THE OVERCASH-WRIGHT LITERARY COLLECTION, A.R. AMMONS PAPERS (COLLECTION #1096), ECU JOYNER LIBRARY SPECIAL COLLECTIONS

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/ ice skating.” Vividly rendered in numerous lifetime poems and passages recalling hardscrabble farm life in southeastern North Carolina from the late 1920s through the early years of the second world war, the depression-era North Carolina of Archie Ammons could not anticipate, among many other incongruous things in the new century, a professional hockey team in steamy Raleigh or a billboard on I-95 touting Whiteville, surrounded now by industrial hog-farming, as a retirement destination. One of the many enabling gifts of The Complete Poems is to witness this geography of selfhood play out across the full archive of the published poetry, assembled chronologically from the obscure debut volume Ommateum in 1955 to the posthumous Bosh and Flapdoodle in 2005. Before returning to the primary theme of Ammons and North Carolina, let me pause to praise the editor of these volumes, Robert M. West, a Professor of English at Mississippi State University who was trained to high

standards of textual and editorial scholarship in the PhD program at UNC Chapel Hill. West’s exemplary labors have demanded a mastery of superabundant materials: the huge publication record, including not only the two dozen books but a vast set of periodical publications; an extensive archive of unpublished materials at Cornell University, including manuscripts and proof copies; and the smaller but significant archive of manuscripts, proofs, and journals at East Carolina University. It is important to note that the banner title of these volumes, The Complete Poems, signifies only published poems; there remains a significant amount of unpublished material in the archives, although dwarfed by the scale of the published work collected here in its full majesty. Following Ammons’s own method when he published several “collected” and “selected” volumes during his lifetime, West presents the poetry in a chronological (rather than thematic) order – here, the order of book publication, which is the most practical way to supply an overall baseline of compositional order. Although the organizational method of book chronology is a reliable general guide to the long arc of Ammons’s compositional career, it is not unfailingly reliable, especially with later collections of lyrics such as Brink Road, published in 1996, which includes poems written as early as 1965. To supplement the superstructure of book order, West very helpfully supplies dates of composition (when available in the archives) and first publication (often in periodicals) after each poem. In order not to publish any poem twice,

ABOVE Self-portrait (watercolor on paper and foam core, 12¼x16) by A.R. Ammons

West is forced to tie himself in a few editorial knots when navigating the books in which Ammons himself collected or selected his own work: one section is titled “Previously Uncollected Poems from Collected Poems 1951–1971 (1972),” a heading that only a textual editor could love. The bonus of the book-order method is that these volumes allow us to study how Ammons built individual books of poetry, not only the famous longer “tape” poems in single volumes – Tape for the Turn of the Year (1967), Sphere (1973), and Glare (1993) – but also the many lyric collections. West’s edition makes an especially important contribution to this topic in the way he presents the vexed volume The Snow Poems, published in 1977. The bibliographical question attending The Snow Poems is whether the book is a collection of 120 discrete poems (a “Table of Contents” in the 1977 volume lists 120 titles) or a single long poem. West takes his editorial cue from several later statements by Ammons and presents The Snow Poems as one long poem of 7,783 numbered lines, with 120 section titles. This question of form matters because The Snow Poems is the book about which Ammons readers still divide, as Andrew Epstein explains in his fine new book chapter on Ammons: “The Snow Poems was greeted with disbelief and hostility by many of Ammons’s most supportive readers, and threatened to derail his career just as it reached its apex with the great success of Sphere.”2 West’s presentation of the poem will facilitate the best new critical work by skilled readers such as Epstein, whose chapter

2

Andrew Epstein, Attention Equals Life: The Pursuit of the Everyday in Contemporary Poetry and Culture (Oxford UP, 2016) 153.

Profile for East Carolina University

North Carolina Literary Review Online 2019  

A literary review published online annually by East Carolina University and by the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association.

North Carolina Literary Review Online 2019  

A literary review published online annually by East Carolina University and by the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association.

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