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Garbage: A Poem Paperback – December 17, 2002

3.9 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

"Garbage," A.R. Ammons writes in this book-length poem, "has to be the poem of our time because / garbage is spiritual, believable enough / to get our attention, getting in the way..." Talky and playful, the couplets of the National Book Award-winning Garbage propel one through the trash dump of 20th-century meaning, as well as into the past and future, where "millennia jiggle in your eyes at night." This project, by turns wryly self-deprecating and densely philosophical, places Ammons in the company of such recent epic funnymen as John Ashbery, Ronald Johnson, and, very self-consciously, William Carlos Williams. Like any good epic, the poem begins in doubt, with Ammons wondering whether to write the book or simply retire and live a life of leisure on Social Security (plus a surely ample pension from his longtime Cornell University professorship). Like John Milton in the preamble to his epic, Paradise Lost, Ammons uses the metaphor of a tree to focus his poetic ambition. "I mean," he writes, "take my yard maple--put out in the free / and open--has overgrown, its trunk / split down from a high fork ... The fat tree, unable to stop pouring it on, overfed and overgrew ... It just / goes to show you: moderation imposed is better / than no moderation at all." Indeed, the poem's 121 pages seem at times nothing more than an attempt to buoy the moment between two extremes: exuberant falsehoods at one end of the scale, cynical platitudes on the other. This "moderation" has served as Ammons' dominant aesthetic during his long poetic career, though Garbage's length and epic ambitions disrupt his trademark austerity. Despite his tangential questioning of reality and time, the poem's ultimate wisdom lies in how it imagines the actively good person, one who sees that
...life, life is like a poem: the moment it
begins, it begins to end: the tension this

establishes makes every move and movement, every
gap and stumble, every glide and rise significant

In a time when most poetry is about loss, Ammons wanders through our community junkyard and, with his good eye, points out what's valuable, and tells us, in his trustworthy tone, why. --Edward Skoog --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

This book-length poem is the second in Ammons's ( Sumerian Vistas ) prolific and distinguished career. In it, 18 sections of meditative free verse range through mortality, nature and our human place in it, as well as through the ordering circuits of poetry and art. At first Ammons declares, "This is a scientific poem," but he means that the reality of our lives and our work is attuned to the natural world in ways measurable and mysterious, as science is to him. Actual garbage, then, is only the starting point he spins away from and returns to in his musings. It is poetry itself that can cast a spell and prevent death: "I want to get / around to where I can say I'm glad I was here, / even if I must go." Sporadically, the writing here is very fine. Ammons is a master of the music inside the conversational; at times, his words take on the momentum of a fugue. But, as he himself reflects, the poet is occasionally unsure of his mission, goal, substance: "I can hardly think / or think of hardly a thing to say." Although Garbage may strike some as too long, in it Ammons sings pure notes among the others that sound less so.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 128 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reissue edition (December 17, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393324117
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393324112
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.4 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #770,408 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on November 26, 2000
Format: Paperback
"Garbage" is a lively book-length poem in 18 chapters about...uh, well, garbage. Actually, that's just a jumping-off point for a poem more concerned with philosophical issues than the here and now, which is fairly uncommon in this age of tinny free verse poems about pretty much nothing. Ammons' imagination takes him all over the map, from musings on the trials of being sixty-three years old with "an unaccomplished mission unaccomplished," to the possibility of personal immortality. Parts are a little obscure, but on the whole this is very readable, even funny at times. Ammons knows how to make philosophy entertaining; as he puts it, "Argument is like dining:/mess with a nice dinner long enough, it's garbage."
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By A Customer on December 30, 2002
Format: Paperback
I think it's fantastic that Norton has reissued Garbage. It and the earlier Tape for the Turn of the Year are great examples of how the long poem can still be a fun, engaging, page-turner of a genre. Ammons was a crackerjack writer and he is at his best in Garbage. It starts off with an audacious premise - that garbage is a worthy subject for epic poetry. But, the next thing you know, Ammons is making you a believer with his astounding lyricism and exuberance. He then turns his romanticized trash heap into a springboard for a engaging discussion of life, art and the question of what is permanent. Garbage is bursting at the seams with Ammons' wry humor, old-fashioned homespun wisdom and refreshingly self-deprecating honesty about the befuddlement of the human condition. A hoot to read!
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Format: Hardcover
Garbage by A.R. Ammons reads--almost--like stream-of-consciousness writing, except that it really consists of well-structured, paired lines that take us,with the poet, on a journey through the junk that permeates not only our world but also our minds, hearts, and consciences. As an older reader (and English teacher for almost 30 years), I identify strongly with much that he says. And I like his unpretentious, but strong use of language. Ammons was a brilliant man with much insight. For those readers who say his book of poetry is junk, I invite them to take another look and read again each section. I am ordering this book today after borrowing a copy from a friend.
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By A Customer on April 12, 2004
Format: Paperback
This is one of the most thought provoking and inspiring poetry books i have ever come accross. Ammons, an acknowledged icon of modern day poetry opens the world beyond the lyrical ballad and onto a garbage dump. inquisitive, sardonic and exhilaratingly optimistic, Ammons makes us question the way we look at life while conducting us along the I-95
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Format: Paperback
In terms of importance and pleasure--perhaps the only meaningful qualities of verse--Garbage is right up there with Harmonium and the Four Quartets. I can think of no other books last century which have had such a profound effect on the art than the aforementioned books of Stevens and Eliot. Garbage is sure to have such an effect for 21st century poets. It has completely transformed my poetry; I can no longer write in a stilted and affected voice. What's more, it has provided me days upon days of intellectual pleasure.
The Ammons line is something totally unprecedented in poetry. Tentative, flippant, musical, supple and tough:
...Mike, the young
kid who does things for us, cut down the
thrift with his weedeater, those little white
flowers more like weedsize more than likely:
sometimes called cliff rose: also got the grass
out of the front ditch now too wet to mow, slashed:
the dispositional axis is not supreme (how tedious)
and not a fiction (how clever) but plain (greatness
flows through the lowly) and a fact (like as not)
Ultimately it is poets who decide which poet achieves greatness and which poet is forgotten. I believe Ammons will influence the coming generation of poets more than anyone else will, and Garbage is sure to play a starring role in this influence.
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Format: Paperback
This book is brilliant, & so unique, through & through. Very particular music, with amazing, complex metaphors; a luminous lexus; a solid, earthy grip in the world with settings in real places such as route I-95 in Florida; & even humor. For example, at one moment in the book, there's an archetype which he comments on being "another Archie." His poetry never stops moving. I think his writing, especially this book with all its idosyncrasies & ideas, is very important poetry to know.
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