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Ego and eco: saying "I" in Expressions of Sea Level.

Expressions of Sea Level: about the sea level, or by the sea level? The first would be to take the title of A. R. Ammons's 1963 poetry volume as descriptive, or performative. The second would be to posit sea level as maker, in "the talk of giants, / of ocean, moon, sun, of everything, / spoken in a dampened grain of sand" ("Expressions of Sea Level"). The latter position is as ecologically sensitive as the former is traditional, Romantic, and potentially exploitative. Ammons seems to have heard it this way, too. In an interview in the Paris Review, he recalls one day when he was nineteen, sitting on the bow of a ship anchored in the South Pacific:
 I thought down to the water level and then to the immediately changed
 and strange world below the waterline. But it was the line inscribed
 across the variable land mass, determining where people would or
 would not live, where palm trees would or could not grow, that
 hypnotized me. The whole world changed as a result of an interior
 illumination--the water level was not what it was because of a single
 command by a higher power but because of an average result of a host
 of actions--runoff, wind currents, melting glaciers. I began to
 apprehend things in the dynamics of themselves--motions and
 bodies--the full account of how we came to be a mystery with still
 plenty of room for religion, though, in my case, a religion of what
 we don't yet know rather than what we are certain of. I was
 de-denominated. (1) 


"De-denomination" encompasses the loss of a name--or loss of the human power to name--as a consequence of thinking not from on high but, instead, down at water level and below. Seeing the world as if from its own perspective--"from the imagined vantage point," as Donald Reiman observes, "of other creatures and of the processes of nature" (2)--Ammons acquires a sudden understanding of its causes and fundamental conditions. In that moment, Ammons conceives of sea level as a living, kinetic organism, an event beyond scenery--not an object for the eye but rather an "I" in its own right, a self-directing dynamic around which the human would be consigned, peripherally. This model suggests one of the primary directives of ecopoetics, defined by Evelyn Reilly as "a search for a language congruent with a world that is not filled with objects or subjects, that is not 'the context,' nor 'the setting' for subjects or objects, but that is a permanent state of flux between subject-objects and object-subjects." Ethically necessary, ecopoetics "requires the abandonment of the idea of center for a position in an infinitely extensive net of relations." (3)

The ecopoetic agenda assumes an author's willingness to vanish into nature, in favor of the would-be background moving to the fore. But how far might an author consent to his removal before he has initiated his erasure? At times, Ammons seems happily aligned with the orientation that Reilly proposes, "another in a series of human decenterings" whereby "the self dissolves into the gene pool and the species into the ecosystem." But in early work like Expressions, to the degree that "his poetry explores the ecological balance points between the human self and nature," Ammons cannot but regard those points as precarious and often unbalanced. (4) Speaking of equilibrium: in the essay "Surfaces" (1974), in which he states that "writing poetry is like surfing," Ammons celebrates the poetic moment when "our own expressiveness is inseparable from all expressiveness," a harmony that hails from "waves in the self" coinciding with actual waves. The poet tries "to catch the wave," which is different from being consumed or subsumed: "We are not exactly swept away." If, however, "we miss," he cautions, lamenting the situation that ecopoetics would privilege, "we spill, and the poem ends in the confusion of grinding bottom, the surfboard tossed free and wild, the self made the object of, rather than the master of, forces greater than itself." To be "clumsy," then, rather than "masterful" vis-a-vis nature and the poem, is to endure being expressed by sea level.

But the ethical position from sea level has its own dilemmas, of an epistemological sort. First, as the title poem explores, "there is no way to know / the ocean's speech." A language "intervolved and markless," turned in on itself and not differentiable by the human ear, what "the sea speaks" in wind and whitecaps and spray is "an inner problem" only, "a self-deep / dark and private anguish," off limits to us who can't parse it: "only with the staid land / is the level conversation really held." Nature conducts "speech without words." Furthermore, the poem and book have inevitably been said by the human. That is, the poet can't get out of the way: any attempts to write by sea level are destined to be haunted by the insistence of what is being said about sea level. There is deep ambivalence about this in Ammons's early volumes. The hypnotic line Ammons observed in the South Pacific isn't stable in these works; its level fluctuates, according to how elastically--or tightly--he clings to the self. Eco is constantly remanded to the ego.

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Ammons's first book, Ommateum (1955), is particularly sensitive to this constant vulnerability, this risk confronting the self inside a potentially overwhelming world, when that self endeavors to speak. "The words were swallowed up / in the voice of the surf," the opening poem recounts, conveying its speaker's fear of fusion, or confusion, with the natural world he nonetheless seeks to favor. "Over the bleached and broken fields," the poem resumes,
 I moved my feet and turning from the wind
 that ripped sheets of sand
 from the beach and threw them
 like seamists across the dunes
 swayed as if the wind were taking me away
 and said
 I am Ezra 


This passage closes exactly as the poem had opened--"So I said I am Ezra"--with Ammons asserting his voice above and against the seaside cacophony that threatens to drag him off. There is anxiety at how his words "leaping over the swells / lost themselves oceanward," which he tries to counter by insistently invoking his name, summoned in order to preserve his identity, lest "the wind [that] whipped my throat / gaming for the sounds of my voice" should obliterate him. And maybe it does: the syntax of the sentence is ambiguous, leaving alive the possibility that it's the mimicking, mocking wind that "said / I am Ezra."

The "feet" he's shuffling are no less the metrics of his verse than the principle of his body's potential stability. The "seamists" are equally beach air (sea-mists) and threads (seams) sewn by language and lineation. Hoping to impose ideas of order on a fraught, unfixed scenario, he's aware of the futility of his pronouncements: "A word too much repeated / falls out of being," he regrets, testifying to the dissolution he wants to stop and can't. In his foreword to the book, Ammons claims the poems are "dramatic presentations" of themes like "the fear of the loss of identity." Indeed, the competing enunciations of "I" and "0" might be read as typographical markers of an agon between self and surroundings, experience and extinction, one and zero, aye and "neigh" ("I broke a sheaf of light"). This last word is itself divided between the negative "nay" and the ne of birth. Every time the voice says "I," the world seems to answer back au contraire: "The oatfields said Oh / and Oh said the wheatfields," until this figure in a landscape is swallowed by the land--"and I said Oh / and fell down in the dust." Elsewhere, this "I in the night standing"--the pronoun invoked no fewer than five times--is poised against assonantal incursions of "0," to which "I" is nonetheless "lashed": ode, oak, rope, body; shadow, cloudy, coil, soul; bonds, songs, root, ghost. The eight iterations of "I" in a later section, each quite visibly vertically aligned, are like the ("gyres and hurricane eyes" described a few pages later. The self is an axis, lever, or pivot, but one that can only be stated in terms of storm.

These are potent examples of Ammons "rendering composition by field accessible in his homespun way." (5) Jed Rasula's formulation tunes into dueling denotations: Ammons may be composing on the paradigm supplied by a field, adapting his creative instinct to the environs, or else he finds his words composed by the field itself. At the close of Ommateum' s first lyric, "I Ezra went out into the night / like a drift of sand," the unraveling speaker says, tracing his dispersal, "and splashed among the windy oats / that clutch the dunes." That last verb indexes his tenacity in the face of the situation he's too much in.

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Ammons's poem titled "Risks and Possibilities" dreams, exclamatorily, of "identity's strict confinement!" But that fantasy immediately gives way, in the opening proclamation of "Terrain," to the deflating worry that "the soul is a region without definite boundaries." The position of self and world is first antiphonal and symbiotic, then agonistic and antagonistic. Thus, Expressions of Sea Level, like Ommateum, must be read as a vacillating experiment--sinusoidal, profoundly unlevel--in self-assertion and-desertion. The Romantic desire to be someone--"I said I will find what is lowly / and put the roots of my identity / down there"--is pitched against an ecologically conscious aspiration to lose the self in, or into, the natural world: "So it came time / for me to cede myself / and I chose / the wind Ito be delivered to." Such apparently clear, quarreling statements are difficult to disambiguate in Ammons. Time "for me to cede myself" is still the temporality of a self that calls the shots, even in arranging its own dispersal; and the phrase is phonetically haunted, of course, by an overriding decision to "seed" my self.

Yet there may be rare moments--and crucial ones--where an alternative emerges. The poem "Identity," often celebrated as the keystone to Expressions of Sea Level, questions how one might release oneself to natural forces without being eradicated from the exchange--without, that is, the interplay tipping in favor of nature. (6) The poem wonders how identity might remain central as it encounters the edges of its world:
 how does
 the spider keep
 identity
 while creating the web
 in a particular place? 


That the poem takes its cue from a spider's individuality already indicates a certain ecocentric orientation: Ammons hopes there might be a lesson for human identity, so frequently afraid of the apparent danger posed to the self by nature. To believe there might be truth in the spider's project is implicitly to revise, if not reject, the supposed gap between "I" and "O," subject and object. The first half of the predicament: "If the web were perfectly pre-set," the poem observes, "the spider could / never find / a perfect place to set it in." In other words, if the self were to adhere to its intactness when engaging the environment, it would never quite fit: the self would be a proverbial square peg attempting to fit the round hole of the universe. On the other hand, "If the web were / perfectly adaptable, / if freedom and possibility were without limit, / the web would / lose its special identity." If what constituted the spider's specificity in negotiating its situation were a paradoxical capacity for generalization, the spider might indeed succeed in netting its web to the world, but only at the expense of becoming just another element in the cosmos, undifferentiated and unable to remain a subject. Ammons concludes from watching the spider's ambidextrous activity that the creature "keeps order at the center / where space is freest," controlling its immediate space under circumstances that imperil it most urgently, while allowing its agency to dissipate the farther away the web gets. "Order / diminishes toward the / periphery," and the web's "points of contact" with external reality allow an "entropy equal to entropy." The web eventually winds off into randomness and disorder, but far enough from its spinner to avoid challenging the spider's identity: both actor and respondent, the spider retains its integrity and integrality at once.

The poem "The Golden Mean" also insists on the value of ego as one of balances: "Sit some and wait, / if you can get / that self-contained," it instructs us, "but do not sit too much; / being can wear thin / without experience." As in many of Ammons's lyrics, terms vie for predominance--a self "conserved" versus the imperative of "living." What makes this rule of thumb "golden" is precisely its being an average. Yet somehow the penuriousness implied in the title's "mean" continues to get the upper hand: hoarding "resources and / recovery's means" is paramount in the project to "become one, I capable of direction, / selected to a single aim" and, in true Romantic fashion, to avoid being "notable for nothing." This is sensible advice, but it's obviously grounded in the sort of rationality that requires the person to be untrammeled. More concisely: "Nothing in excess." But even if, as the poem reads, "wisdom says do not go too far," it's not evident that Ammons believes that. The full phrase comprising the last lines is: "nothing in excess is / excessive nothingness." To do nothing excessively, the poet suggests, is to succumb to the negligence that he otherwise warns against. In classically ambivalent, "golden mean" fashion, the poem also argues for excess.

Here we have an opening into a more radical, if also rarer, early Ammons, who dares to think--not fearfully, but approvingly--of the limits of self, including its demise. This Ammons wishes to affirm alterity even at the expense of "I," and perhaps even to discover a paradoxical self-definition within that evacuation. It may be that identity; rather than a de facto, originary state that needs preserving against outside forces that enfeeble it, is achieved through dispossession. Expressions of Sea Level doesn't trade in such "excess" frequently or consistently, which makes the few instances where the self puts itself at risk all the more volatile.

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 but they splintering in that deep soft day
 could not herd
 their moans
 into my quiet speech
 and I bent 


The most striking aspect of the poem "Jersey Cedars" is that the trees suffer. Desperate to stand straight again, out from under the snow that bends their branches, the trees are described as "swaying weepers." The speaker reassures them that spring, with its rain and thaw, will "unburden you." These descriptions obviously indulge the pathetic fallacy, a hallmark of traditional nature poetry that ecopoetics has striven to rethink because of its anthropocentrism. The term was derogatory to John Ruskin himself, who coined it in 1856, calling the temptation to attribute human feelings to nature "very beautiful, and yet very untrue," since it demonstrated a poet's getting "over-clouded, or over-dazzled by emotion," when the intellect ought to withstand such passion and consider objects with objectivity A poet of the first order, according to Ruskin, "perceives rightly in spite of his feelings," and for that poet "the primrose is for ever nothing else than itself--a little flower, apprehended in the very plain and leafy fact of it, whatever and how many soever the associations and passions may be, that crowd around it." (7)
 Ruskin made an exception, though, for the major poet alone:
 Only however great a man may be, there are always some
 subjects which ought to throw him off his balance; some,
 by which his poor human capacity of thought should be
 conquered, and brought into the inaccurate and vague
 state of perception, so that the language of the highest
 inspiration becomes broken, obscure, and wild in metaphor,
 resembling that of the weaker man, overborne by weaker
 things. 


"Jersey Cedars" can be read as such an exception, since Ammons's language will certainly be "broken" by the cedars' brokenness. The oppressed position of the trees is already one of imbalance: "The wind inclines the cedars," the lyric begins, "and lets / snow riding in / bow them." By the end of the poem, the cedars' "bent spires dipping at the ground," the speaker will adopt exactly this unbalanced pose: "I bent / over arms / dangling loose to wind and snow." Ammons elevates the trees to the status of human beings by showing how they're brought low; he allows that they are capable of suffering. Or more provocatively, he expands the notion of suffering beyond the human, to include the New Jersey trees. Ammons is among those writers for Ruskin "who, strong as human creatures can be, are yet submitted to influences stronger than they." For Ammons, that influence is grief, and that's why the situation "ought" to trouble his speaker; he feels a kinship with the trees insofar as they hurt. If for Ruskin these fallacious poets "see in a sort untruly, because what they see is inconceivably above them," Ammons manages to make the submission to a greater influence not pathetic but rather a legitimate self-becoming.

There is a disjunction between human language and cedarspeak, which obscures, in part, the possible relation between tree and human. Despite the solidarity the speaker manifests by bending over and dangling his arms like snow-weighted boughs, the trees "could not herd / their moans / into my quiet speech." His consolation to the trees that "the forces ... are already set up" to ensure they will "rise" in spring proves unfounded. That is, the conditions of a human promise are impossible to fulfill in the natural world of nonspeech (or nonhuman speech). A similar misstep occurs in "Mountain Liar," when the ranges, "tired of lying down," wonder if he might lift them; he says he'll help them fly, but when they open their eyes they have not moved from their spot. This failure of mobility accuses the poet's impotence: admittedly without his "lyre," the speaker--Orpheus minus imagination--can't organize the world. He's revealed at close to be a "wood," a natural phenomenon just like the mountains. In "Jersey Cedars," though, the speaker actively chooses to become, as it were, a forest. He attempts to overcome the initial linguistic disjunction by imitating the cedars' unfortunate condition, joining them, finally, in "assailing the earth with moans." His vocals no less than his body language reveal a double self-sacrifice: he subjects his physique to a painful position, and then abandons language for the sounds of lament and protest, which signify in a different, more "natural" way.

The speaker and trees therefore achieve a kind of communication, albeit on a different level than that of human speech. The poem describes the trees "splintering in that deep soft day" under climatic pressure. In response, the speaker elects to be splintered too, out of camaraderie, abandoning his idiolect for the cedars' keening. "Communication demands a defect, a 'fault," Georges Bataille asserts in Le Coupable (1946). (8) "It enters, like death, through a chink in the armor. It demands a coincidence of two lacerations, in myself and in the other." Earlier in the essay, he writes, "Through that which we can call incompletion, animal nudity, wound, diverse separate beings communicate, take life by losing themselves in communication, one with another." As trees and so-called speaker--for his status now demands a less human, less assured moniker--perform their sad and angry duet in "Jersey Cedars," their mutual vulnerability as living organisms spurs communication. The speaker wants to help the trees "stand again" as "green-cone arrows at the sun," and therefore he may be hoping to release them from the oppressive "snow' that "bows" them, and indeed from all the "O"-sounding geophysics that prevent them from being straightened to the vertical echelon of "I" on the "hedgerows of / open fields." Perhaps he wishes to grant them humanness. On the other hand, the sight of trees vandalized by winter causes him to overcome his knee-jerk, defensive reaction to the negation inherent in the "Oh" of their plea. Eventual partner to the moans" the trees make, the speaker comes to cancel the "I" (that armor he dons in other poems) in order to transition toward a more elastic "language" wherein he might "be / with them," neither as an intact identity nor as a being fallen entirely out of itself. This would be an O not of zero, or naught, but rather of the round, accommodating globe.

Ammons's terminology of self and other, elsewhere so rigidly binary--either discrete but protected, or involved but diffuse--is enlarged here by his insistence on shared incompletion. The wound that the trees suffer--the wound that they, in effect, are--solicits the wound that the speaker, via an obscure operation we do not see explicitly worked out in the lines themselves, has suddenly presented himself to be. Something is less centripetal here than the closed posturing Ammons asserts elsewhere, whereby "poets write from some need for self-expression." (9)

The poem testifies to a difference in the speaker's experience, outlook, mode of responsibility. Ammons's speaker certainly feels an urgency--rooted in injury: to the trees, therefore to him--to respond to the cedars in kind: kindly. Unexpected within the are of Expressions of Sea Level, and perhaps not entirely understood even by the one concerned, it is the inclination to incompletion that catalyzes the speaker's final move. Ammons's poem validates the symbiotic frailty of reciprocal exposure between a person and an arbor, to the degree that its speaker, resisting any impulse to retreat into the sheltering veneer of self, selects instead to deepen the incision that is his new identity. Confronted by the cedars' pain, the speaker opens himself as a likewise dolorous being, rather than shutting down and shutting out--or shutting up.

The record of another linguistic stalemate, "Close-Up" documents a speaker praising a mountain for its lapidary wealth, to which the mountain responds by shaking loose some stones. This riposte knocks the speaker down; standing back up he admits, "It doesn't pay / to get too / close up to / greatness." The comeback reminds us of the lessons learned in a Denise Levertov poem titled "Against Intrusion," where scaling a mountain by car or on foot only reveals its local features "but no sense of height," while photographing it captures only a lake and "the middle distance. No mountain." The speaker resolves that "its vanishings / are needful," that the mountain ought to be left alone: "Respect, perspective, / privacy, it teaches." In Ammons, the failure is not simply an instruction in ethical behavior, but is internalized as a profound emotional loss, maybe even a missed opportunity at being together. However, if we hear his title as an imperative to "close up," we become aware that the speaker has withdrawn, leaving the mountain alone. "Stonefelled" and "addled" by the miscommunication, the speaker opts out of further exchange. The mountain "couldn't help / itself" and "wept," just like the Jersey cedars--the speaker doesn't offer to help. Closing within, rather than getting close to what's outside him, the speaker abdicates, rendering the mountain "friendless." This poignant last word returns us briefly to Bataille. The speaker of "Close-Up" exemplifies an unfortunate privileging of the ego that Bataille calls "the closed particularity (the short-sighted egotism)." By contrast, the speaker in "Jersey Cedars" takes up the challenge to affirm existence as a mutually fragile interaction. In leaving the comfortable confines of his existence to mesh two ontologies that otherwise wouldn't, the speaker of "Jersey Cedars" paradoxically completes himself. And the name of this strange fulfillment, in Bataille's lexicon, is "friendship."

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Four years after Expressions of Sea Level appeared, the United States launched its largest ground operation of the Vietnam War, committing 30,000 American and South Vietnamese troops to three weeks of carnage. Their tripartite mission: the deportation of all civilians, destruction of their homes, and deforestation of the whole area. The January 1967 initiative was coded "Operation Cedar Falls." The name summons up the ominous promise in Jeremiah 22:7: "And I will prepare destroyers against thee, every one with his weapons: and they shall cut down thy choice cedars, and cast them into the fire." Nearly a fifth of the total forested area in Vietnam was destroyed between 1962 and 1971 by programmatic US use of Agent Orange and other rainbow herbicides; bamboo and cogon grass later invaded the decimated zones, making reforestation difficult. Napalm generated its own ecological hazards, creating fire storms that turned 20 percent of the air to carbon monoxide and wind storms that blew at up to 70 mph. This is to say nothing of the human horror: birth defects, skin seared at an unthinkable 2,000 degrees.

Ammons was a remarkably apolitical poet, especially in the context of the 1960s, with its foreign interventions and civil unrest. He never claimed, as Robert Duncan did in his introduction to Bending the Bow, that "madness starts up in me" at the thought of "villages destroyd, men, women and children hunted down in their fields, forests poisond, herds of elephants screaming under our fire." (10) In the Paris Review interview, addressing the "non-cultural" aspect of his work, Ammons admits, "I never allude to persons or places or events in history." Nonetheless, it's eerie how "Jersey Cedars" portends miseries of the natural world akin to those borne in war, as though Ammons, like Jeremiah, the "weeping prophet," has confirmed the pathetic fallacy as "the usual condition of prophetic inspiration."

"Jersey Cedars" indeed opens a conversation about the possibility of a "politics" grounded in ecology and community. From the pathetic fallacy, Ammons's communitarian sentiment begins in his allocation of grief. He resolves that the cedars are worthy of grief, that grief encompasses modes of being not limited to humanity. Moreover, as the end of the poem demonstrates, he grieves along with the cedars, thereby "reimagining the possibility of community," as Judith Butler has articulated, "on the basis of vulnerability and loss." Butler's essay "Violence, Mourning, Politics" outlines an avenue to community based in the shared precariousness of our bodies in collective grief, a community that Ammons intimates in deciding that the cedars, though not human, possess what Butler calls a "grievable life." (11) Ammons's poem, however, radicalizes this idea, extending the argument into the natural world. The speaker of "Jersey Cedars" acknowledges that the cedars, their "black-green branches" endangered, may be lost, and that recognition wounds him; it demonstrates that he's attentive to his own fragility, to the ways that he and the trees are already joined in the world. He permits a loss of himself, or at least of his language, to offset the trees' anguish, groaning in collusion with them.

Not reduced to speechlessness, the speaker's language is nonetheless "cluttered" with "signs of its undoing," and this flotsam testifies to the ways in which he and the trees, mutually disrupting, are also symbiotically constitutive. The speaker's choice "to be / with" the cedars is an act of self-securing, even as it passes through shedding the self. That loss, paradoxically, is who the speaker "is," the modality of what he is--or that he is at all. His identity is not disputed, then, but qualified. This is partly held within Ammons's strange verb "assail," in the poem's last line, which indicates a challenge to the status quo powers, those "forces ... already set up." To begin "assailing the earth with moans" is to expose oneself in lamentation to the resistant elements, which in their turn are natural forces exposed to the trees. The contestation between, on the one hand, speaker and trees, and, on the other, cedars and snow, is also a symbiotic, founding gesture. The word "assailing" shelters "sailing," or a potential for continuation, as if by the end the speaker had assented to the negative O and converted it to pure Romantic expression: "moans."

We recall Ammons's recollection as he stood on the bow of a ship in the South Pacific and watched the water waver: he was "de-denominated" upon realizing that the world was organized not according to a "higher power" but in terms of "things in the dynamics of themselves." In one sense, this de-denomination is a version of losing the I, or the power to say "I": it's the inability to assert oneself on one's own, to constitute one's own ground. In the same stroke, it's a testimonial to the nominating power of what, up until now, has been conceived as "outside" the I--nature itself. "I" is a subject precisely because nature nominates "me." Letting go of his own modes of being and speaking in "Jersey Cedars," the speaker reneges his identity, only to discover it granted to him by the trees that have set the standard for communication, and with whom he then converses: nature undoes him and in doing so presents him with a version of himself that is more expansive, more politically available than his earlier, egocentric insistence had allowed. "For if I am confounded by you," Butler writes, "then you are already of me, and I am nowhere without you. I cannot muster the 'we' except by finding the way in which I am tied to 'you,' by trying to translate but finding that my own language must break up and yield if I am to know you. You are what I gain through this disorientation and loss." Not speaking but being spoken: what I does not "say" is precisely how sea level gets expressed in "Unsaid," the lyric that follows the volume's title poem. The unsaid is how I achieve my identity. Through "the non-song //in my singing," the speaker--though he's not speaking any more--implores us to "read the parables of my unmaking." As with all parables, the meaning is counterintuitive: to be unmade is to "gather the boundaried vacancies," pulling together shards of self. Ammons is venturing a permeable, tessellated I, precariously posed and exposed, and "words," as we suspect, "cannot bear it / out." Only "the other side of matter" can mutter me.

Ammons's speaker is submitted to a transformation: from anxiously believing himself to be ipso generated--and therefore constantly threatened--to understanding his "self" as "an average result of a host of actions." Average: that is to say, not exceptional. Here, his ceding of himself again converges on seeding himself, but not in a manner that returns him to a central position. That slot has been occupied by the cedars, whose name contains both homophones, "cede" and seed"--and who, for their part, are also ceding, to the weather. Butler's rhetoric is serendipitously anticipated by Ammons's poetic acquiescence: "It may be that this experience of transformation," Butler supposes, "deconstitutes choice at some level." At what level? Ammons titled it sea level.

(1.) / "The Paris Review Interview" (1996), in Set in Motion: Essays, Interviews, and Dialogues, ed. Zofia Burr (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1996). Ammons served in the navy during World War II. Readers interested in his diaries should see "A Log of the USS Gunason (DE-795)," Epoch 52:3 (2004).

(2.) / Donald H. Reiman, "A. R. Ammons: Ecological Naturalism and the Romantic Tradition," Twentieth-Century Literature 31 (Spring 1985).

(3.) / Evelyn Reilly, "Eco-Noise and the Flux of Lux," in the eco language reader, ed. Brenda Iijima (Brooklyn: Portable Press at Yo-Yo Labs; Callicoon, NY: Nightboat, 2010).

(4.) / Leonard Sciga), Sustainable Poetry: Four American Ecopoets. (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1999). In his later poems, Scigaj Ammons adopts a truly "biocentric position," practicing a "chiastic intertwining of subject with object."

(5.) / Jed Rasula, This Compost: Ecological Imperatives in American Poetry (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2002).

(6.) / Alert to Ammons's desire for "congruence between human experience and nonhuman nature," Gyorgi Voros has put forward the notion of "echo"--the voice returned to itself, after an encounter with natural formations--to consider "Identity" and related poems. Because an echo needs its surroundings to "speak," it is "ecocentric." It suggests an idea of creativity not sui generis, but rather as adaptability to the given: echo-poetic. This "echo" is an auditory adjustment of Scigaj's visually oriented "chiasmus." See "Earth's Echo: Answering Nature in Ammons's Poetry," in Ecopoetry: A Critical Introduction, ed. J. Scott Bryson (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2002).

(7.) / "Of the Pathetic Fallacy," in The Complete Works of John Ruskin, vol. 22, Modern Painters Vol. 3 (New York: Bryan, Taylor & Company, 1894).

(8.) / Georges Bataille, Guilty, trans. Stuart Kendall (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2011).

(9.) / As recorded in an interview with Jim Stahl, "The Unassimilable Fact Leads Us On ...," in Set in Motion: Essays, Interviews, and Dialogues.

(10.) / Robert Duncan, Bending the Bow (New York: New Directions, 1963).

(11.) / Judith Butler, "Violence, Mourning, Politics," in Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence (London: Verso, 2004).
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Title Annotation:ESSAYS
Author:Zawacki, Andrew
Publication:Chicago Review
Article Type:Critical essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 22, 2012
Words:6129
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