Commentary: “Tape for the Turn of the Year” by A.R. Ammons

1 March:

today I
finished
a
book-length
poem
by A. R. Ammons:

“Tape for the Turn of the Year.”

I feel a bit foolish.
I thought
“book-length” meant book-length
except I had no idea of the meaning.
I confess: on some level,
I thought
“book-length” meant novel.
How could I have been so wrong?
I still think in terms of character development—
of conflict. The tip
of an iceberg.
Denouement.

Poetry is different. I know this.

I have my own muse. When I was sixteen,
I called her
Louisa. Did I really mean
Larissa? Some shadow self?
Louisa was a ghost. A flapper
from New Orleans. She had backstory.

A life.

I drank watered-down coffee
in Denny’s at 3 AM
and scribbled in pale yellow crayon
to Louisa
on napkins—
on glossy postcards. I couldn’t read
my own words.

But “Louisa”
doesn’t matter.
The Muse matters.

Ammons writes:

because I’ve decided, the
Muse willing,
to do this foolish
long
thin
poem, I

specially beg
assistance:
help me!
a fool who
plays with fool things….

I’m attracted to paper,
visualize kitchen napkins
scribbled
with little masterpieces:
so
it was natural for
me….
to contemplate
this roll of
adding machine tape. (2-3)

I understand this fascination.
I understand what Ammons
has set out
to do.

2 March:

today
I feel a bit different:

When I searched Google
for book-length poems,
I had a particular book-length poem
in mind:
Sharp Teeth
by Toby Barlow.
It’s about werewolves
in L.A.
Still, it reads like
an epic.
Ammons mentions Odysseus, but there
is nothing epic
about his poem, and he
knows it. Simply put,
he wanted to keep a journal
on a roll
of adding machine tape.

It reads like poetry
because of forced line breaks—
crumbled sentences confined
by lack of space—and because Ammons, a poet,

waxes poetic:

[he] can’t tell a great
story: if [he] were
Odysseus, [he] couldn’t
survive. (8)

I have been unfair. So, too, has Ammons.
His month-long sliver of recorded life
is anything but dull. It is often
weird:

silence,
broken by keys:

*
* * *
* * * *
* * *
*
clusters!
organizations! (51)

There is a plane crash. Ammons discusses
identity. Reality. The weather.
I long for story.
There are shapes. Why not
werewolves?

3 March:

How might I classify
this poem?
Like Ammons, “I’m having
this conversation with a
piece of paper” (46).
Would Ammons and Joyce
have been friends?
This napkin has nothing
to say.

I wonder what Louisa
would have to say? Is she acquainted
with Ammons?

Not much has changed
since December 1963, when Ammons
wrote this piece
on adding machine tape. The Earth continues to warm.
It storms. There is love.

Does “Tape for the Turn of the Year” have meaning?
I suspect Ammons
is a deconstructionist,
even though I’m not entirely sure
I know

what that means.

(I’m not writing
on a napkin, though no one would believe me
if I were.)

Ammons loses steam—he types one word per line
in one section
on 14 Dec. He knows his project

is more novelty

than journal
than poem.

Perhaps he wants to seem a deconstructionist.
Does he simply want
to keep a journal
on a roll of adding machine tape?

I do.

This commentary
is a new
beginning.

There is no red ink. There is no tape.

This commentary isn’t
the end.

I’ve given
you my
emptiness: it may
not be unlike
your emptiness:
in voyages, there
are wide reaches
of water
with no islands: (204)


You may find a copy of “Tape for the Turn of the Year” here or here.

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2 Responses to Commentary: “Tape for the Turn of the Year” by A.R. Ammons

  1. amy says:

    Okay, this might be weird. I just saw your post over on xojane.com and I was all HOLY CRAP! Those are my eyeballs! And my hair!! Because I’m keenly interested in genealogy, I took a look at your site and noticed that you’ve got people in West Virginia. I’ve got dead people in West Virginia! If it’s not too weird, feel free to email me if you want to compare notes. – Amy

    • Larissa says:

      Hi, Amy! I don’t see an e-mail address from you, but yes, my mother’s grandmother lived in West Virginia. Most of my maternal relatives hail from Virginia and West Virginia, and my paternal line hails from Virginia. I am the spitting image of my father (right down to my eye color), so if we share the same eye color, you must have some relatives from Virginia! (Or Ireland and Wales, rather.)

      My eye color is unique, so I must admit, I’m curious to see the similarities! I’m not going to post my e-mail publicly (after I engaged certain people who commented on my xoJane article, I received threats and harassment, plus I’m worried about spam), but I believe you can easily find the address if you want to e-mail me. 😉

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