The Manhattan Review
The Manhattan Review
Established 1980

Archive > Vol. 1 no. 2


Philip Fried

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 publication.

MR: Dorrance.

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 that.

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
 mirrored world
of permanence, another place trans-shaped with knackery: a  brook in
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 . . .