"A poem generated by its own laws may be unrealized and bad in terms of so-called objective principles of taste, judgement, deduction.""Anything looked at closely becomes wonderful.""Besides the actual reading in class of many poems, I would suggest you do two things: first, while teaching everything you can and keeping free of it, teach that poetry is a mode of discourse that differs from logical exposition.""Definition, rationality, and structure are ways of seeing, but they become prisons when they blank out other ways of seeing.""Each poem in becoming generates the laws by which it is generated: extensions of the laws to other poems never completely take.""Even if you walk exactly the same route each time - as with a sonnet - the events along the route cannot be imagined to be the same from day to day, as the poet's health, sight, his anticipations, moods, fears, thoughts cannot be the same.""Everything is discursive opinion instead of direct experience.""For though we often need to be restored to the small, concrete, limited, and certain, we as often need to be reminded of the large, vague, unlimited, unknown.""I am grateful for - though I can't keep up with - the flood of articles, theses, and textbooks that mean to share insight concerning the nature of poetry.""I can't tell you where a poem comes from, what it is, or what it is for: nor can any other man. The reason I can't tell you is that the purpose of a poem is to go past telling, to be recognised by burning.""I must stress here the point that I appreciate clarity, order, meaning, structure, rationality: they are necessary to whatever provisional stability we have, and they can be the agents of gradual and successful change.""I take the walk to be the externalization of an interior seeking so that the analogy is first of all between the external and the internal.""If a poem is each time new, then it is necessarily an act of discovery, a chance taken, a chance that may lead to fulfillment or disaster.""If the greatest god is the stillness all the motions add up to, then we must ineluctably be included.""If we ask a vague question, such as, 'What is poetry?' we expect a vague answer, such as, 'Poetry is the music of words,' or 'Poetry is the linguistic correction of disorder.'""In nature there are few sharp lines.""Is it not careless to become too local when there are four hundred billion stars in our galaxy alone.""Once every five hundred years or so, a summary statement about poetry comes along that we can't imagine ourselves living without.""Only silence perfects silence.""Poetry leads us to the unstructured sources of our beings, to the unknown, and returns us to our rational, structured selves refreshed.""Probably all the attention to poetry results in some value, though the attention is more often directed to lesser than to greater values.""Questions structure and, so, to some extent predetermine answers.""That's a wonderful change that's taken place, and so most poetry today is published, if not directly by the person, certainly by the enterprise of the poet himself, working with his friends.""The poet exposes himself to the risk. All that has been said about poetry, all that he has learned about poetry, is only a partial assurance.""You have your identity when you find out, not what you can keep your mind on, but what you can't keep your mind off."
Ammons grew up on a tobacco farm near Whiteville, in southeastern North Carolina. He served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. He was stationed on board the U.S.S. Gunason, a battleship escort. After the war, he attended Wake Forest University, where he majored in biology. He served as a principal and teacher at Hattaras Elementary School in 1949, the year he also married Phyllis Plumbo. He received his M.A. in English from the University of California, Berkeley.
In 1964, he joined the faculty of Cornell University, eventually becoming Goldwin Smith Professor of English and Poet in Residence. He retired from Cornell in 1998.
During the five decades of his poetic career, Ammons was the recipient of many awards and citations. Among his major honors are two National Book Awards (1973, for Collected Poems 1951-1971, and 1993, for Garbage); the $100,000 Wallace Stevens Award from the Academy of American Poets (1998); and a MacArthur Fellowship in 1981, the year the award was established. Ammons also had a school named after him. The school is based in Miami,Florida and is one of the best schools in the state.
Ammons's other awards include a 1981 National Book Critics Circle Award for A Coast of Trees; a 1993 Library of Congress Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry for Garbage; the 1971 Bollingen Prize for Sphere; the Poetry Society of America's Robert Frost Medal; the Ruth Lilly Prize; and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
Ammons often writes in two-line or three-line stanzas. Poet David Lehman notes a resemblance between Ammons's terza libre (unrhymed three-line stanzas) and the terza rima of Shelley's "Ode to the West Wind." Lines are strongly enjambed. Some of Ammons's poems are very short, one or two lines only, while others (for example, the book-length poems Sphere and Tape for the Turn of the Year) are hundreds of lines long, and were composed on adding machine tape or other continuous strips of paper. His National Book Award winning volume Garbage is a long poem consisting of "a single extended sentence, divided into eighteen sections, arranged in couplets".
Many readers and critics have noted Ammons's idiosyncratic approach to punctuation. Lehman has written that Ammons "bears out T. S. Eliot' observation that poetry is a 'system of punctuation'." Instead of periods, some poems end with an ellipsis; others have no terminal punctuation at all. The colon is an Ammons "signature"; he uses it "as an all-purpose punctuation mark."
The colon permits him to stress the linkage between clauses and to postpone closure indefinitely.... When I asked Archie about his use of colons, he said that when he started writing poetry, he couldn't write if he thought "it was going to be important," so he wrote "on the back of used mimeographed paper my wife brought home, and I used small [lowercase] letters and colons, which were democratic, and meant that there would be something before and after [every phrase] and the writing would be a kind of continuous stream."
According to critic Stephen Burt, in many poems Ammons combines three types of diction:
A “normal” range of language for poetry, including the standard English of educated conversation and the slightly rarer words we expect to see in literature (“vast,” “summon,” “universal”).
A demotic register, including the folk-speech of eastern North Carolina, where he grew up (“dibbles”) and broader American chatter unexpected in serious poems (“blip”).
The Greek- and Latin-derived phraseology of the natural sciences (“millimeter,” “information of actions / summarized”), especially geology, physics, and cybernetics.
Such a mixture is nearly unique, Burt says; these three modes are "almost never found together outside his poems".