from "A Place You Can Live": An Interview
with A.R. Ammons
* * *
MR: So you did have a sense of isolation
when you were working in the business world?
A: It was total isolation. So much
so that in 1956, this would be five years after leaving Berkeley
MR: And a year after your first book.
A: That's right, which was a vanity
A: That's right. By the way, they've
begun to publish again after all these years.
MR: And it's impossible now to get
your book anywhere. But there's a more positive aspect to publishing
in such a way now; it is more accepted.
A: Oh, it should be, it is now.
MR: Of course, Whitman was a self-publication.
A: Yes, the trouble with it in those
days was that the idea of dignity and credibility was based on this
hardbound book. We've moved away from that now, so that a young
poet can publish a booklet of his poems and be in just as good company
as if Macmillan had done it in gilt-edged leather. 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.
MR: What plan did you have for distribution
when you did that?
A: I had no plan whatever. I guess
Dorrance must have known that they wouldn't sell, so though they
had said they would produce 300 copies, they actually may have printed
300 sheets, but they only bound 100 copies. And I think they eventually
threw away the other 200 because they couldn't sell the first 100.
In five years, it sold sixteen copies.
Then my father-in-law bought about forty or fifty and sent them
to South America, to some of his customers, who couldn't read it.
. . .
* * *
MR: I'm think of the passage in Sphere
beginning, "there is a faculty or knack . . ."
A: Isn't that a nice passage. I like
MR: It's lovely, it's one of my favorites.
A: Me, too. I'm glad you said that.
MR: Especially the line, "a
brook in the mind that will eventually glitter away the seas . .
A: Isn't that something, I like that.
That's what it's all about, it seems to me, to keep trying till
you get to some place like that. And then, in a Heideggerian sense,
it's a place you can live. You can live in that little passage.
MR: Yes, and others can, too.
A: Well, that's what I mean by trying
to be representative. I know that people are there, but I don't
know how to speak to them directly, but if I can make something
that we can share, then we would be speaking, as you and I are.
Now I feel very close to you since you just said that about that
passage. Not because I wrote it and you didn't, but because we share
it regardless of who wrote it.
MR: Perhaps to conclude, would you
be willing to read that?
A: I'd be glad to.
there is a faculty or knack, smallish, in the mind that can turn
as with tooling irons immediacy into bends of concision, shapes
struck with airs to keep so that one grows unable to believe that
the piling up of figurements and entanglements could proceed from
the tiny working of the small, if persistent, faculty: as if the
world could be brought to flow by and take the bent of
that single bend: and immediately flip over into the
of permanence, another place trans-shaped with knackery: a brook
the mind that will eventually glitter away the seas: and yet pile
them all up, every drop recollected: a little mill that changes
everything, not from its shape, but from change: the faculty
that can be itself, small, but masterful in the face of size and
spectacular ramification into diversity . . .