Death, Love and the Poetry of Life

Fans of the late A. R. Ammons have much to rejoice as this year saw the release of two new books celebrating the poet's work.

The first book, entitled "Considering the Radiance," is a compilation of essays and criticism on the poetry spanning Ammons' entire career.

Through this collection, editors David Burak, who teaches English at Santa Monica College, and Roger Gilbert, professor of English at Cornell University, manage to effectively dissect and illustrate the progress in which Ammons' work became some of America's most celebrated poetry.

The book begins with essays on his first book "Ommateum," which was published in 1955 and ends with touching tributes to this loved and admired artist.

Throughout the book, contributors comprised of fellow scholars and authors express various interpretations of Ammons' work, and in doing so provide different insights and perspectives. It is in this area where the book thrives.

Conflicting views on "Gravelly Run" between critics David Kalstone and Helen Vendler, both experts in the field of poetry, help to illuminate the gray areas of a poem that questions the need for philosophy.

Daniel Mark Fogel, a literary scholar and former schoolmate of Ammons at Cornell, points out that he uses humor as a method to express empathy for human failings, an idea that contrasts with author and Yale University Professor Harold Bloom's own ideas of humor.

The second book entitled "Bosh and Flapdoodle" is Ammons' last completed collection of poetry.

Written in 1996 and then revised by Ammon during the last five years of his life, the poems take issue with life, death, sex, youth and old age. They are printed exactly in the order in which Ammons left them.

The compiled poems address these topics with an air of humor and dry wit as its strange, humorous title describes.

Poems like "Good God" and "Vomit" hint at the failings of an aging male body with the former touching on the issue of male impotence and death.

"Balsam Firs" is a reflection on marriage, while "Between Each Song" pays tribute to a lost sister.

All in all "Bosh and Flapdoodle" makes an excellent diving board for anybody interested in poetry that is at the same time beautiful as it is easy to relate to.

Coupled with "Considering the Radiance," even longtime fans of Ammons can be sure of learning something new.

Ammons was born outside Whiteville, North Carolina, in 1926. He started writing poetry aboard a U. S. Navy destroyer in the South Pacific.

Ammons wrote nearly 30 books of poetry, winning prizes and also fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation and the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He died on Feb. 25, 2001.