I wish I could shed a bit more light on this interview with the late poet A.R. Ammons. All I know for certain is that the interviewer was a woman and the last question asked was: What advice would you give to aspiring young writers. Ammons said [paraphrasing] If you can possibly not write, do that. Why sit in your room picking at your own liver forever? Why not play tennis, have a few friends?
I will update this post with more details if I find them. In the meantime, here’s the portion of the interview that I do have:
Q: I’ve always wanted to ask you if you believe in things that are mysterious and inexplicable, because of your interest in science. Do you believe in things that can’t be explained … can’t be explained by our senses, and can’t be explained by science … such as God … or ghosts … or an afterlife?
Why, I think that all things are inexplicable. I think that explanation is a kind of definition or use of the mind which is so limiting in itself, that what it clarifies always is a small aspect of any given thing, so the explanation never, you notice, never becomes complete. We’re never satisfied with the explanation.
And I think one of the great potentialities of poetry is that while it moves on the surface with image and color and motion and sense, it develops not an exposition finally, but a disposition, that is the whole poem is finally there. Once the whole poem is there, you can’t blurt it out in a single syllable.
It seems to me that what art does, and what explanation can’t do, is it stops. The poem ends. And at that point, it becomes a construct, a disposition rather than an exposition, and it is silent at that point and indefinable. And this cures us of the fragmentation that words have imposed on us from the beginning.
You see, by the use of words and sentences and sense, we’re able to break down a silent world into certain clear things to say about it. But then we need to be rescued from the fragmentation we’ve made of the world, and we do that by art, by putting these motions back together and actually reaching the indefinable again.
At that point it may be that the poem turns into feeling or to impressions or suggestions or hints or intuition, but anyway, it’s not a piece of knowledge that you put in books, but something you encounter, something you live with as if it were another person, as you come back again and again to a piece of sculpture and just stand there … and be with it.
When we get to that point in a poem, where we be with it rather than ask what it means or explain how it got there, then we are back with the indefinable, we are restored to ourselves, and feeling can move through us again.