Friday, March 17, 2006

Corson's Inlet

A. R. Ammons’ ‘Corson’s Inlet’ is one of the best known twentieth century landscape poems and has generated much discussion about poetic form since its publication in 1965. The poem evokes the movement of a walk in its shapes and rhythms. Here, for example, are the opening lines

I went for a walk over the dunes again this morning 
to the sea, 
then turned right along 
   the surf 
              rounded a naked headland 
              and returned 
   along the inlet shore:

There are a series of critical reflections on the poem in the useful Modern American Poetry site. Five examples:

  • Richard Grey (in American Poetry of the Twentieth Century) discusses the form of the poem as a field rather than a closed object, “There are, Ammons suggests, 'no / ... changeless shapes': the poet-seer must invent structures that imitate the metamorphic character of things. The organisms he creates must respond to life as particularity and process; they must be dynamic, unique to each occasion; above all, they must be open.”
  • Paul Lake (‘The Shape of Poetry’ in Poetry after Modernism. Ed. Robert McDowell) thinks that modern developments in chaos theory go against the idea that landscape lacks formal structure. By analogy, there may be more promise in formal poetry than is suggested by the organic natural form Ammons was writing in ‘Corson’s Inlet’.
  • Bonnie Costello (‘The Soil & Man's Intelligence: Three Contemporary Landscape Poets’, Contemporary Literature 30:3) notes that for Ammons the "mirroring mind" is “not mimetic so much as congruent, finding coordinates to match, not copy, the particulars of the landscape.”
  • Steven P. Schneider (in A.R. Ammons and the Poetics of Widening Scope), echoing Harold Bloom, writes that in ‘Corson’s Inlet’ Ammons “finds "direct sight" more liberating than the contemplation of the Sublime. In Ammons's universe, the apperception of physical, manifest phenomena and processes yields pleasure and sometimes pain. Despite the lure of the Transcendent, he resists it.”
  • John Elder (Imagining the Earth: Poetry and the Vision of Nature) says that in Ammons’ poetry the “sequence of natural shifts and the path of human consciousness” provide “an ecologically balanced art”.


graham king said...

Intriguing. I like the poem. Your discussion suggests a parallel in the Chinese term for "blandness" as recounted in Francois Jullien's "In Praise of Blandness - proceeding from Chinese Thought and Aesthetics." Difficult to sum up in words. Elmore Leonard's short stories have the same quality.

Plinius said...

Thanks. For discussion of 'In Praise of Blandness' see this later post: The Landscape of the Bland.