The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson by Emily Dickinson

Uploaded by [email protected] on November 2, 2010

Uploaded by [email protected] on November 2, 2010

In his poems — all of which are collected in these two long-awaited, definitive volumes — we get to watch someone brilliant and deeply capacious thinking through everything he encounters. He is different from his peers like the hipper John Ashbery, who is ever-fascinated by popular culture and who writes, much of the time, like he's making smart conversation at a party. With Ammons, one feels more like one is in the presence of a capital-P poet, someone at a desk, or sitting on a bench under a tree, who is busy pontificating, although perfectly sociable and friendly, with a bit of a wink and a grin and a healthy helping of informality.

But to describe Ammons as a lovable grouch only gets at the most obvious feature of his poetic personality. More deeply, he was a relentlessly prolific armchair philosopher, a metaphysician of the everyday, a thinker who never abandoned his grade school love of the sciences and who made a permanent place for biology, physics and mathematics in the highest orders of American poetry. He was a successor, as the critic Harold Bloom famously noted, to Walt Whitman, Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams and Robert Frost. Though all of this taxonomy does little to give a sense of how fun it can be to read his poetry.

For an undeniably major poet, Ammons was unusually funny, slippery and tricky. He was particularly expert on two kinds of poems — really short ones and really long ones. Here's "Beautiful Woman," a great example of the former from his 1996 collection "Brink Road":