» August 17th, 2019




A.R. Ammons was a southern poet who grew up poor on a Carolina tobacco farm owned by his Pentecostal parents. He scratched his way to that sweet spot between total immersion in and angry disownment from parental influence and majored in science at Wake Forest University. Poetry snuck up on him as he stared into the South Pacific as a soldier during WWII–”The whole world changed as a result of an interior illumination”–and he wrote like a demon on weekends and evenings while making a living in his father-in-law’s glassware business. In 1977, his poem “Easter Morning”¬†recollected a visit back to North Carolina:

. . . . I cannot leave this place, for

for me it is the dearest and the worst,

it is life nearest to life which is

life lost: it is my place where

I must stand and fail . . .

As a resident of Austin, Texas since 1994, and having grown up in Atlanta, where I make obligatory and frequent visits to family, this quote spoke up to me. Both places have been transformed by untethered greed and creativity. The physical landscape has been altered so drastically under these not incompatible influences that the only continuity that I can positively identify is the literal longitude and latitude measures that mark these homelands in Google space.

In Atlanta, I now get lost in the same stretch of three miles between my home and high school. In Austin, if you leave for a week, it’s as if someone took a giant weed whacker to blocks of old structures and saturated the earth with Miracle-Gro for boxy big-windowed buildings. The whole¬† transformative project seems catered to an odd but fierce millennial-inspired dedication to “lifestyle” and “quality of life” and it’s as shallow as a kiddie pool full of warm piss.

Yet “I cannot leave this place.” It’s the darnedest and dearest and the worst. I stand here, for sure, and even more for sure, I fail here. Cascades of failure. My homeland cuckolds me on a daily basis and yet I remain, obediently and with disarming loyalty, loyal to her turf. Explaining this adherence to place would likely require going deeper into my psyche than I wish to do in this public forum, but there seems an easy explanation: Austin is where my friends are and Atlanta is where my family is. I know, yawn. But time ensures this tyranny. We abide our geography if we want to be grounded in a way that matters, and in the way that Ammons so brilliantly understood.

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