Home > Ammons A.R., Literature, Poetry > So I said I am Ezra (A.R. Ammons)

So I said I am Ezra (A.R. Ammons)

Thus I wrote about A.R. Ammons, whose voice whipped past me yesterday, a cry, car­ried by the wind: “I am Ezra.” By some chance the wind had not destroyed this message, but lofted it past with its integrity preserved. What I heard, I heard clearly, only I fear some of the signal was lost, strangled, for it began at a strange place. “So I said I am Ezra”, it began—with “so”.

But “so” is not a word for the start of a sentence. It indicates that what follows, follows—that something foregoing offers an explanation. I heard no such explanans. There is only the insistence: “I am Ezra.” Nor is the poem circular. What comes later does not qualify the “so,” but leaves the blanks, blank. Ezra, the man who announces himself as Ezra, remains caught between the dunes and the sea, each in turn carrying his protestations into nothingness. That is all there is.

I cannot, then, resolve the “so,” cannot say what it is that makes Ezra declare himself. He is simply there, declaring, until he is no longer. I cannot even say that he has a history, unknown to me—I cannot rule out the possibility that none of his message was lost in its voyage to me. Perhaps I heard it from the beginning. And why should Ezra have a history, after all? The ocean and the dunes might as well have none, for all the difference it makes to their current behavior—why then should I insist that Ezra have a history?

While I am confessing my impotencies, allow me to add this: I cannot say that Ezra’s “so” indicates—as I have been taking it to indicate—a “for this reason.” “So” may also suggest “in this way.” Ezra may only mean to say that he states himself just so. What follows, then, shows me the state of this stating. This is not implausible, for “so” recurs, later in the poem, in this guise: “As a word too much repeated / falls out of being / so I Ezra went out into the night …”

What is to decide between these two readings of that initial “so”? Say I resolved upon this second reading—I would not by this resolution squelch the question of why Ezra announces himself, just so, to the wind and the waves.

But I am beginning to feel odd. I should not have heard this message, should not be hearing it still, nor should I be writing about it. Do I not, in so doing, arrest Ezra’s fall out of being? Do I not deny him the dissolution that followed from his going unheard? It is a perverse happenstance that his voice should have reached me here, so far from either dune or sea. By what wind was it carried? By what river did it sail?

As the puppet acts it knows not why, overpowered by external compulsion, thus I find myself replacing my pen, and withdrawing.

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  1. 2014/04/19 at 22:29

    I personally appreciate this take on this great poem. I studied under Ammons at Cornell in the mid-80s and early 90s. That first poem in his first book also encapsulated a thought about poetry and process that I learned from Archie and have carried with me ever since. Dissolution is just fine. If you’re not learning something from the process that is writing a poem, there is no need to write a poem, no need to be a poet. I’ve never heard that from another poet. When you’re done you’re done. In one of my favorite poems of his, Ammons also wrote “Firm ground is not available ground.” I’m happy to see you’re exploring what is available in approaching Archie’s work.

    I’d like to tie one of your most recent reflections on Emerson and his ideas of concert and friendship to this idea of the relationship between the poet and the poem, and that between the poet and the reader. But I’d have to think more about it. I’m just happy to read these responses so close to one another, and about two writers so important to my own life.

    • 2014/04/19 at 22:45

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Jeff. A friend of mine who is a poet suggested Ammons to me, and in a used bookstore yesterday I found his Selected Poems 1951-1977. This poem is the first in that collection, and I still haven’t really gotten past it—it immediately arrested me and still arrests me. To an extent, I wrote this post to try and free myself, to try and get a reflective distance from what halted me, that I might move on to the later poems, but I’m still in its grasp.

      What you say (following Ammons) about the value of the process of writing, over the product, strikes home. I find that when I write for this blog, I almost immediately forget what I’ve written, except for the vaguest of recollections that I have written it—and not always that. If what I write today builds on what I wrote yesterday, it is not because I have some synoptic vision of where my thought has been and where it is heading, but because of some stealthy influence the act of writing has left.

      I agree that Emerson’s ideas on friendship should be extended to the practice of reading. I have come to think of reading as a sort of conversation among friends, subject to the perils (and thrills) Emerson isolates so well. I haven’t thought so much about the relation between the writer and what s/he has written, but I suspect the same applies. And now I am having a vague recollection of having written something on this once—I don’t recall quite what I said, but here is the post: https://dyssebeia.wordpress.com/2013/12/21/melancholy-details/

      Most of what I write here I post with little or no revision. I have been tempted, this summer, if I can find the time, to revisit much of what I have written and see what, if anything, might be synthesized from it. That would teach me a lot about this matter.

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