A. R. Ammons

One of my life’s great opportunities was to study with the poet A.R. Ammons as an MFA student at Cornell University between 1971 and 1973. We students knew him as Archie. He received the first of two National Book Awards for his Collected Poems: 1951-1971 while I was there listening to everything he said, and the Yale University critic Harold Bloom was busy making him immortal by writing that “No contemporary poet in America is likelier to become a classic than A.R. Ammons.” His second National Book Award was for Garbage in 1993, after which he was awarded a MacArthur “Genius Fellowship.”

There were two pronouncements I remember as though Ammons had uttered them today: the first was what he said to me in his office: “If a poem isn’t going to add-up to anything, it must be interesting at every point.” While he seemed to be saying that my poems didn’t add-up, he was also describing an aesthetic method that I’ve used hundreds of times since. Later that semester he read aloud to the workshop this poem I had submitted for discussion:

The Storm has come again today,
it rages shrill pins.

I hear a pale child moaning alone
near the bottom rocks
of the field.

I feel the blowing wet
bruise her face.

When finished he observed: “I don’t see any way this poem by Mr. Bertolino could be better than it already is.” I felt pretty cocky after that, and rather enjoyed being glared at by the other MFA students. But I had to wonder why Ammons would make that remark in front of my classmates. I then spent much more time reading his poetry, and soon discovered his work effortlessly accomplished some of the elements I was striving for in my own poetry. Here’s a passage from one of Archie’s poems about poetry:

Poetics

not so much looking for the shape
as being available
to any shape that may be
summoning itself
through me
from the self not mine but ours.

He always had a marvelous way of putting things, and often found very simple shapes to embody dazzling ideas. Those shapes were often found close at hand, and mostly from the natural world. It’s hard to imagine a poem by any poet that could more effectively portray a metaphysical concept than this one:

Reflective

I found a
weed
that had a

mirror in it
and that
mirror

looked in at
a mirror
in

me that
had a
weed in it.

In Ammons’ poem “Small Song,” wind plays a key role: as a phenomenon that acts on, then is revealed by reeds. The reeds first are subject to the wind, then have a kind of power over the wind.

Small Song

The reeds give
way to the

wind and give
the wind away

In this last poem, the wind enables the daisies to more fully experience their own loss as the yellow petals leave their stems and are gone.

Loss

When the sun
falls behind the sumac
thicket the
wild
yellow daisies
in diffuse evening shade
lose their
rigorous attention
and
half-wild with loss
turn
any way the wind does
and lift their
petals up
to float
off their stems
and go.

How could any attentive reader fail to feel how sad, but beautiful, it is when something as attentive as these wild things lose their focus and dissipate. Haven’t we all given ourselves over to a power not our own? Haven’t we experienced loss?

James Bertolino


—James Bertolino
A.R. Ammons’ sample poems can be found in
Collected Poems: 1951-1971.

The Poet As Art presents

A Poetry Reading featuring poets Terry Martin (from Spokane)
and Casey Fuller (from Portland, OR)

featuring Terry Martin and Casey Fuller


When: Friday,February 24th, 7:00 pm
Where: Lucia Douglas Gallery (1415 13th St. in Fairhaven)
This event is free and open to the public. Donations always welcome.

Terry Martin and Casey Fuller write about womanhood and manhood, and reflect on the childhood experiences that lead to those states. Seattle’s Open Books calls Fuller’s poems “sharp-edged, yet tender,” and Lucinda Roy says of Martin’s poems, “the sublime is housed within the domestic: kitchens are cathedrals, and the ‘geometry’ of rituals sustained by women teach us how to sing … about what we dare to love and what dares to love us back.”

ALSO:
A Poetry Writing Workshop with poet James Bertolino
Images On The Edge: a poetry writing workshop where we will develop images that will energize your poems, and create a lasting impact for the reader or listener. We will examine what kind of language is most effective for a given image, and utilize sound repetition and echo to make the image irresistible. Each workshop participant should expect to go home with three new poems.

James Bertolino

When: Saturday, February 25th, 1:00 to 4:30 p.m.
Where: Egress Studio
Registration fee: $45
To register, call: (360)398-7870 or email Jim at jim@jamesbertolino.com
Please mail fee to:
Whatcom Poetery Series
5581 Noon Road
Bellingham WA 98226

About Terry Martin
After teaching middle and high school English Language Arts for a number of years, Terry Martin earned a M.A. and Ph.D. at the University of Oregon. She has been an English

Terry Martin

Professor at Central Washington University since 1986, teaching undergraduate and graduate English courses. She is the recipient of CWU’s Distinguished Professor Teaching Award and Central’s Presidential Leadership Award. In 2003, Martin was honored by the CASE/Carnegie Foundation as Washington Professor of the Year—a national teaching award given to recognize extraordinary commitment and contribution to undergraduate education. An avid reader and writer, she has published over 250 poems, essays, and articles and has edited both journals and anthologies. Her first book of poems, Wishboats, won the Judges’ Choice Award at Bumbershoot Book Fair in 2000. Her most recent book of poetry, The Secret Language of Women, was published by Blue Begonia Press in 2006. Hiker, river-watcher, and lover of the arts, she lives with her partner in Yakima, Washington.

About Casey Fuller
In 2011, Casey Fuller won the Washington State-wide Floating Bridge Chapbook Award for his poetry collection, A Fort Made of Doors. In 2010, he won the Jeanne Lohmann Poetry Prize. In 2009, the city of Olympia awarded him the Here Today art grant. He

Casey Fuller

received his MFA from the Rainier Writing Workshop at Pacific Lutheran University in 2008. His poems have appeared in Crab Creek Review, Switched-On Gutenberg, A River and Sound Review, Palabra, and other publications.
Fuller has lived in the Northwest for 33 years. He was born in Olympia, Washington, where he was educated at pubic schools, and studied literature and cognitive science at The Evergreen State College. He has worked as an auto detailer, burrito roller, fruit vendor, note taker, office worker and, most recently, as a forklift driver in a warehouse where he wrote poems during his breaks. He lives in Portland, Oregon, with his wife Katrina, and two cats, Monty and Garcia Lorca.

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I’m very proud to announce that Egress Studio Press is publishing two more Pacific Northwest poets. Vashon Island poet Ann Spiers’ chapbook is titled What Rain Does. The other publication is Her Story of Fire by Bellingham poet Richard Widerkehr. Look for them in the next week or two.

As soon as I finish printing them, Jim Bertolino and I will score, fold, cut, and sew the books. It’s a fairly relaxing pastime. When the poets finally have copies in their hands, I’ll post more information about the poems, the poets, where to purchase the books, and what they look like.

These are the first Egress Studio Press poetry books to be created completely in the studio: from layout to printing to assembly. I’m pretty excited about that. For now, I have to get back to the last edits before Jim and I start constructing the books.