Reeds – Brief Poems by A. R. Ammons

content14f9ab6e25a1a3e3d73dad63cffc12a1A. R. Ammons (1926-2001) was born in rural North Carolina, and his experiences growing up on a cotton and tobacco farm during the Great Depression inspired a great deal of the poet’s work. He is best know for his long poems such as the unusual book length poem, Tape for the Turn of the Year (1965) a daily journal originally composed on a thin roll of paper. He wanted to write a poem confined in length and width, and so he wrote the entire poem on a roll of adding machine tape, and the result was a diary of the last part of one year and the beginning of another. I knew him as the author of that great poem Gravelly Run  and the much anthologised “Corsons Inlet”. (Hear him read it on YouTube.)

It was only recently I discovered he had written numerous short poems, including one collection entitled The Really Short Poems of A. R. Ammons (1992). David Kirby in the TLS has praised “his short lines, his overall brevity, his avoidance of punctuation marks other than the occasional comma and that quick stop-and-go colon are hallmarks of his minimalism, his exquisitely unencumbered technique.” They may look casual but they are the work of a great craftsman. As Ammons explained, “Short poems, for me, are coherences, single instances on the periphery of a nonspecified center. I revise short poems sometimes for years, whereas, since there is no getting lost in the long poem, I engage whatever comes up in the moment and link it with its moment….in my short poems, I go over them and over them testing them out. Often, I don’t change more than a word or two, but sometimes the whole poem is radically changed.”

The poems included below span Ammon’s whole career and prove repeatedly that brevity is indeed the soul of wit. A few of them, the first two in particular, have almost achieved the status of classics. The range is impressive. Some are mordantly funny paradoxes and others are compressed moments of lyric intensity. And all within the space of a tweet.






Bravery runs in my family.


Their Sex Life

One failure on
Top of another


Beautiful Woman

The spring

her step

turned to



After a long
the raindrops
started so
the bumblebee flew
them home


Small Song
The reeds give way
to the wind

and give
the wind away



A day without rain is like
a day without sunshine



I found a
that had a

mirror in it
and that

looked in at
a mirror

me that
had a
weed in it


Progress Report

Now I’m
into things

so small
when I

say boo
I disappear


Pebble’s Story

Wearing away

away away


The Upshot

It’s hard
to live

living it
up down.


Quit That

I don’t
want to

be taken
seriously except

that I
want my

wish not
to be

taken seriously
to be

taken seriously


Poetry To The Rescue

You must be
nearly lost to
be (if
found) nearly



It’s nice
after dinner
to walk down to
the beach

and find
the biggest
thing on earth
relatively calm.



May happiness
pursue you,

catch you
often, and,

should it
lose you,

be waiting
ahead, making

a clearing
for you


Coming Right Up

One can’t
have it

both ways
and both

ways is
the only

way I
want it.


From The Complete Poems of A. R. Ammons, edited by Robert M. West and published by W. W. Norton and Company.





75 poems are available on the Poetry Foundation website.

The Paris Review interview with A. R. Ammons.

Another, more detailed, interview from Terrain.

A New York Times review of The Complete Poems of A. R. Ammons (Volume 1 and Volume 2).



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