Nov 09 2012

A. R. Ammons – An Improvisation for Angular Momentum

Published by at 10:13 am under Poetry

An Improvisation for Angular Momentum
by A. R. Ammons

Walking is like
imagination, a
single step
dissolves the circle
into motion; the eye here
and there rests
on a leaf,
gap, or ledge,
everything flowing
except where
sight touches seen:
stop, though, and
reality snaps back
in, locked hard,
forms sharply
themselves, bushbank,
dentree, phoneline,
definite, fixed,
the self, too, then
caught real, clouds
and wind melting
into their directions,
breaking around and
over, down and out,
motions profound,
alive, musical!

Perhaps the death mother like the birth mother
does not desert us but comes to tend
and produce us, to make room for us
and bear us tenderly, considerately,
through the gates, to see us through,
to ease our pains, quell our cries,
to hover over and nestle us, to deliver
us into the greatest, most enduring
peace, all the way past the bother of
beyond the finework of frailty,
the mishmash house of the coming & going,
creation’s fringes,
the eddies and curlicues

/ Photo by jenny downing /

This is such an interesting poem to me. The first section is a fascinating, very specific exploration of how perception shifts when we are walking rather than standing still.

When we are stationary, we perceive our immediate environment — the small “circle” of our world — as being fixed. Because we don’t move, the world around us doesn’t move, and suddenly everything we see seems very “real” — concrete, tangible, “locked”

But when we move, when we start to walk, we “dissolve the circle;” we step outside our own bubble. Objects are no longer stationary. Our eyes can no longer lock on things. Instead, our vision flows over things, their edges are less defined, their reality softens.

We notice that the self, too, changes its nature. Perceiving a world of fixed, solid objects, we imagine ourselves to be the same. In a soft, moving world, we see the self not as a thing but as a flowing process of perception.

This reminds me of something I used to practice some years back. My wife and I usually share driving, so I am often in the passenger seat. When conversation would wane and I found myself sitting quietly in the moving car and nothing to do I would watch the world go by in two specific ways. First, I would fix my attention on passing objects, a street sign, a tree, a pedestrian, my head turning as we approached and then passed. Do that a few times and you can get dizzy. Then I would switch and look out the side window and intentionally not focus on anything in particular, just letting the world slide by in a fluid blur. Not only does the world’s apparent tangibility shift, but the perceiver changes: consciousness shifts, attachment reflexes lessen. The way we look at the world influences the way we are in the world.

The second part of A. R. Ammons’s poem does an interesting jump in theme. He then speaks of the “death mother” and the “birth mother.” How does that relate to perception, walking, and standing still? We can begin to understand his meaning when we recognize what he is saying about them: Birth and death are not figures that mark the beginning and endpoint one’s life. He suggests that they both journey with us all along. And, when it’s time to pass through the “gates” of life, both of them, birth as well as death, tenderly guide us through.

Passing through that threshold of life-death, is similar to “dissolving the circle” of beginning a walk. We leave the fixed reality of physical life, and enter a more flowing relationship to existence, with a more fluid sense of self. He envisions a state of “great peace,” unburdened by will, recollection, and vulnerability, all things that require wearying effort and attachment. This poem gives us a picture of death not as a stopping point, but as the beginning of a journey, one of panoramic vision and panoramic self.

A. R. Ammons, A. R. Ammons poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry A. R. Ammons

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6 responses so far

6 Responses to “A. R. Ammons – An Improvisation for Angular Momentum”

  1. Erin Won 09 Nov 2012 at 1:22 pm

    I love this! I have a sedentary job, but what I love most in life is walking, so this poem speaks directly to me. What a beautiful description of a shift in perception that is hard to capture in words. I appreciate your analysis and chosen photo too. Thank you for your dedication to keeping inspiration like this flowing through the inbox.

  2. marrobon 09 Nov 2012 at 6:07 pm

    Well, I’m especially grateful for Ivan’s commentary today because I admit
    I missed the plot on first reading.

    But right off, I found the sounds ‘behind’ the words and some expressions
    seemed to jump out . rather like moving about on their own

    Expressions like.

    wind melting
    into their directions


    quell our cries

    or, my favourite,

    past the bother of

    I agree, the photo is interesting today, where the shadow reflects more than
    the reality . a bit like these shorter, lately sombre, November afternoons .

  3. Pegon 11 Nov 2012 at 7:23 am

    During Mercury retrogrades my mind is more difficult to slow down. Thoughts are whirring around in my mind just like the passing images in the poem. I can barely make them out. Strange things come up, too. Things I have not thought about in years like this morning having taken the time to reread this poem I remembered another poem I was immersing myself in about a child with down syndrome and how I thought about Bryce. Bryce had down syndrome and someone I love very deeply. I baby sat for him for the three short years of his life here on earth. As soon as I thought of his beautiful smile I knew that he s visiting me at that moment. I will be so excited to see him again and find out all the worlds that he is visiting since I last saw him some thirty-five years ago. My brain and language have not kept pace with my dimensional/spiritual knowledge. I crossed through death’s false membrane many times from a near death experience and out-of-body experiences.

    We need to make some linguistic upgrades to accomodate our quantum world. For one, replacing death with transformation or metamorphosis or our transition to another dimension. The book by Susan Strehle on “Fiction in the Quantum Universe” is really giving me permission to change my writing style and freeing it from my delusional Newtonian past.

  4. Val Leventhalon 11 Nov 2012 at 11:29 am

    Thank you, Ivan, once more, for a beautiful poem and commentary. Since I am dealing with the passing of my significant other, this poem was so meaningful to me. Significant other – a moment’s reflection, stepping outside the “bubble” of a common phrase, to see the true meaning of “significant.” Big changes bring big, “significant” insights. Loss, death, growth, birth – all are part of the constantly changing flow of the river of our lives.

  5. Ivan M. Grangeron 11 Nov 2012 at 12:42 pm

    Sending love, Val. ~Ivan

  6. Bob Corbinon 11 Nov 2012 at 1:06 pm

    A lovely poem, and more lovely on reflection, thanks to your commentary and to the comments of others. I know nothing of A. R. Ammons and i will scurry to read some of his other poems

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