A. R. Ammons, Pragmatism, and “The Philosophy Poem”

Criticism / Andrew Epstein

:: “Uh, Philosophy”: A. R. Ammons, Pragmatism, and “The Philosophy Poem” ::

Over two thousand years ago, in The Republic, Plato famously referred to the “ancient quarrel between philosophy and poetry” as part of his argument for banishing poets from his ideal society. If it was already “ancient” then, clearly the vibrant, sometimes heated dialogue between poetry and philosophy has a long history. Over the course of two millennia, this conversation has taken many forms. Philosophers, for example, have followed Plato’s lead and sought to distinguish their own mode of inquiry from poetry, or even to elevate it above poetry as a higher pursuit. They have also approached poetry philosophically, in terms of aesthetics, seeking to define and understand it as a distinctive genre and human activity. Or they have longed to emulate the freedom, creativity, and eloquence of poetry in their own field. For their part, poets have drawn contrasts between poetic expression and philosophical thought, often privileging poetry in the process. Or they have made claims for their own medium’s ability to be a potent vehicle for philosophical investigation, or have wished for poetry to share the rigor, precision, and gravitas of philosophy.

Obviously, this is a long and complicated story, and the list of poets who engage philosophical themes, or whose work can be discussed in terms of philosophy, is nearly endless. Few poems, however, address philosophy as explicitly and succinctly as “Uh, Philosophy,” a poem by A. R. Ammons, written in about 1959, and published in the collection Northfield Poems (1966). In fact, Ammons’s poem is a potent example of one of the most recent manifestations of this old debate: the emergence of what I refer to as “the philosophy poem.” This is a type of poem, written by a wide range of poets in the 20th and 21st centuries, that makes the conversation between poetry and philosophy explicit. A “philosophy poem” not only explores philosophical problems, but directly addresses philosophy as a field, depicts the act of reading philosophy, or takes pains to contrast poetry and philosophy. Such poems frequently mention particular philosophers by name, quote from philosophical texts, or address specific ideas and concepts from works of philosophy.

At the same time, such poems rarely seek to present a straightforward treatise on philosophical concepts. For example, Ammons’s poem is deliberately slippery and contradictory, winding its way through syntactically complex phrases, doubts, hesitations, self-corrections, and paradoxes. As such, it embodies an essential feature of the broader category of “the philosophy poem”: such works are not designed to function like an essay or scholarly argument, but rather to play out ideas in motion, to dramatize intellectual debates and problems, and to chart how a mind might grapple with such ideas and their effects upon our lives.

The philosophy poem moves to the fore in the modernist period: it can be seen in innumerable poems by Wallace Stevens, like “To an Old Philosopher in Rome” (about George Santayana) or “Description Without Place” (with its references to Nietzsche), in William Butler Yeats’ “Among School Children” (with its reflection on Plato and Aristotle), W. H. Auden’s “In Memory of Sigmund Freud,” or Delmore Schwartz’s poems “In the Naked Bed, In Plato’s Cave” and “The Ghosts of James and Peirce in Harvard Yard.”

In the period since World War II, “the philosophy poem” has flourished to such an extent that it seems to constitute a mini-genre all its own. Within this mode, poets appeal to philosophy directly in order to take stock of specific philosophical ideas—often new or fashionable ways of thinking—and to wrestle with the implications of those concepts. Robert Hass’s celebrated response to the advent of post-structuralism and deconstruction, “Meditation at Lagunitas” (1979), is exemplary:

All the new thinking is about loss.
In this it resembles all the old thinking.
The idea, for example, that each particular erases
the luminous clarity of a general idea. That the clown-
faced woodpecker probing the dead sculpted trunk
of that black birch is, by his presence,
some tragic falling off from a first world
of undivided light. Or the other notion that,
because there is in this world no one thing
to which the bramble of blackberry corresponds,
a word is elegy to what it signifies. (4)

Alongside this well-known example, one could place a whole array of poems, like John Ashbery’s playful poem “My Philosophy of Life,” which begins:

Just when I thought there wasn’t room enough 
for another thought in my head, I had this great idea – 
call it a philosophy of life, if you will. Briefly, 
it involved living the way philosophers live, 
according to a set of principles. OK, but which ones? (73)

Ashbery’s rambling, half-serious investigation turns on the lines “then you remember something William James wrote in some book of his you never read,” ultimately becoming more of a tribute to “the gaps between ideas” than philosophy proper.

The philosophy poem varies widely in terms of form, subject matter, theme, and philosophies and philosophers addressed. The mini-genre ranges from Richard Wilbur’s “Epistemology” to Robert Creeley’s “Reading of Emmanuel Levinas,” from Ann Lauterbach’s “Platonic Subject” to David Shapiro’s “The Counter-Example” (which responds to Gottlob Frege), from Philip Whalen’s quotations from Heraclitus in “Sourdough Mountain Lookout” to David Lehman’s “Wittgenstein’s Ladder” or David Kirby’s meditation on deconstruction in “Dear Derrida.” It includes, as well, any number of book-length projects, like Rosmarie Waldrop’s encounter with Wittgenstein in The Reproduction of Profiles or Susan Howe’s with Charles Sanders Peirce in Pierce-Arrow. Over the past decade or two, such examples have seemed to multiply, including recent poems like Erin Belieu’s “The Body is a Big Sagacity” (which addresses and responds to Nietzsche), Ariana Reines’ riffing on Alain Badiou in “[Trying to see the proportional relation],” and Ana Božičević’s “About Nietzsche.”

Because Ammons’s poem “Uh, Philosophy” so pointedly and playfully reflects on the act of reading philosophy and shows a speaker thinking his way through the implications of certain philosophical ideas, it encapsulates many of the features of the philosophy poem and seems to anticipate its flowering over the ensuing decades. It is hardly surprising that Ammons, of all poets, would write such a poem, as he is generally considered one of the most overtly philosophical of contemporary poets. Much like Wallace Stevens, who devotes his entire body of poetry to ruminating on the relationship between imagination and reality, Ammons’s poetry endlessly weighs, tests, and ponders the dialectical tensions between a set of interconnected binaries. In Willard Spiegelman’s words, “Ammons tells us over and over that his main theme, perhaps his sole one, is the relationship between the one and the many, and this old pre-Socratic dichotomy, along with variants (inside versus outside, up versus down, center versus periphery, freedom-verging-on-entropy versus stability-turning-into-imprisonment), is his obsession” (112). In poems, interviews, and essays, Ammons announces that his poetry is one long meditation on the nagging philosophical problem of how to reconcile unity and diversity, the general and the particular, abstract ideas and concrete particulars.

However, in “Uh, Philosophy” Ammons addresses philosophy qua philosophy even more explicitly than in most of his work. Here is the poem in its entirety: 

I understand 
   reading the modern philosophers
that truth is so much a method
       it’s perfectly all
right for me to believe whatever
   I like or if I like,

   I do not know that I care to be set that free
I am they say
       at liberty to be
provisional, to operate
expediently, do not have to commit myself

to impeturbables, outright 
   legislations, hardfast rules:
they say I can 
       prefer any truths 
   suits my blood,

blends with my proclivities, my temperament:
   I suppose they mean I’ve had more experience than I can 
ever read about, taking in
       as I do 
possibly a hundred sensations per second, conscious
   and unconscious

and making a vegetal at least
from them all, so that
       philosophy is
a pry-pole, materialization,
   useful as a snowshovel when it snows:

something solid to knock people down with
   or back people up with:
I don’t know that I care to be backed up in just that way:
       the philosophy gives clubs to 
everyone, and I prefer disarmament:
   that is, I would rather relate

to the imperturbable objective
   than be the agent of 
“possibly unsatisfactory eventualities”:
       isn’t anything plain true:
if I had something
   to conform to (without responsibility)

I wouldn’t feel so hot and sticky:
   (but I must be moved by what I am moved by):
they do say, though, I must give some force to facts,
       must bend that way enough,
be in on the gist of “concrete observations,” 
   must be pliant to the drift (roll with the knocks):

they say, too, I must halter my fancy
with these blinding limitations: 
      I don’t know that I can go along with that either:
for though I’ve proved myself stupid by 33 years
   of getting nowhere

I must nevertheless be given credit for the sense wherewith
   I decided to never set out:
What are facts if I can’t line them up 
       anyway I please
and have the freedom
   I refused I think in the beginning?  (95-7)

By wrestling with the precepts and conclusions of “the modern philosophers,” Ammons speaks to issues that resonate throughout a broad range of twentieth- and twenty-first century poetry. For instance: do we have access to any objective reality? Does “truth” exist, or only partial and contingent truths? What are the consequences of embracing the anti-foundationalism and relativism that characterizes so much twentieth-century thought? What would it mean to accept some of the new, perhaps unsettling ideas drawn from recent philosophy and theory—to live with them, as both a writer and a person? Can one—especially if one is a poet or artist, or perhaps a philosopher—find a wholly materialist or empiricist philosophical conception of the universe satisfying? What is the relationship between philosophical inquiry and poetic expression anyway?

The poem suggests Ammons’s uneasy relationship with philosophy itself. Even the title “Uh, Philosophy,” with its slangy stuttering, seems designed both to evoke and then undermine the idea of “a philosophy” (as in “let me tell you about a philosophy I read about”). With that initial “uh,” Ammons seems to ironically undercut the validity, the efficacy, the grandeur of philosophy as a pursuit. In the end, the poem seems to pull away from philosophy itself in favor of a kind of negative capability—an acceptance of not-knowing, an embrace of the concrete sensuous world, that Ammons presumably associates with poetry (as opposed to “philosophy” proper). Ammons articulates a similar idea about the inutility of philosophical truths or absolutes in another well-known early poem, “Gravelly Run”: “no use to make any philosophies here: / I see no / god in the holly, hear no song from / the unbroken weeds: Hegel is not the winter / yellow in the pines” (56).

However, as I will suggest, Ammons’s attitude in “Uh, Philosophy” may be more complicated than it appears at first. As Laurence Lieberman observes in one of the few discussions of this poem, Ammons is “an original philosopher in his poetry, though he often parades in the guise of poet-as-anti-philosopher” (315). “In ‘Uh, Philosophy,’” Lieberman notes, “he cuts deeper into the subject the more he pretends, with graceful offhandedness, to dismiss its importance.”

But by doing so, Ammons does not really wash his hands of philosophy entirely. Instead, he seems to throw his lot in with one particular branch of modern philosophy with great importance to poetry: American pragmatism. Indeed, I read Ammons as a poet deeply invested in the American pragmatist tradition—the lineage that stems from the more grounded and skeptical side of the many-faceted Emerson, moves through the thought of William James, Peirce, and John Dewey, to modernist poets like Wallace Stevens, Robert Frost, and Marianne Moore, down to the “New American Poetry” of the 1950s and beyond. In recent years, many critics have examined the influence of pragmatism on modernist literature, and especially on American poetry. Following the lead of Richard Poirier, critics have argued for pragmatism’s importance to modernist figures like Henry James, Stevens, Frost, Moore, and Gertrude Stein, to the African-American tradition of W. E. B. DuBois, Alain Locke, Ralph Ellison, and Amiri Baraka, to the jazz and blues tradition, and to the postwar poetry of Frank O’Hara, John Ashbery, David Antin, Susan Howe, and others. [1] But Ammons has been absent from those discussions, and his abundant connections to pragmatist thinking and poetics have been overlooked by Ammons’s critics, who have more often viewed him as a nature poet, a latter-day Romantic and transcendentalist. This is a particularly strange omission given that Ammons’s obsessions, even his vocabulary, are often strikingly similar to those at the heart of the philosophy of William James and other pragmatists—the “one and the many,” monism versus pluralism, the nature of attention and perception, the importance of the local, small-scale, and marginal, and so on.

“Uh, Philosophy” is a fairly early Ammons poem, one that catches him at a transitional moment as he struggles to leave behind the mystical, visionary poems of his earliest work and moves toward the more pragmatist outlook he would soon adopt. As they turn away from the unity and finality of a monistic outlook and accept a universe of flux and diversity, Ammons’s poems register a deep ambivalence about both the gains and losses of such a view. For example, in the poem “Guide,” he acknowledges the dangers of any unifying or totalizing view of the world: “you cannot come to unity and remain material: / in that perception is no perceiver: / when you arrive / you have gone too far.” But he also notes that this recognition is “the sin you weep and praise”—it is an unsettling wisdom, one that makes the speaker simultaneously “glad and sad.”

Similarly, in “Uh, Philosophy” Ammons stages an internal debate about pragmatist philosophy and its consequences. It is perhaps not surprising, then, that the anti-philosophical gestures one finds in “Uh, Philosophy”—its impatience with philosophy itself—are actually quite similar to characteristic moves of pragmatism, which has often been described as “anti-philosophical” because of its emphasis on avoiding the pitfalls of traditional philosophic inquiry. Thanks to what the neo-pragmatist philosopher Richard Rorty sees as its “postphilosophical” attitude about the field itself, pragmatism has often been seen as a way of doing philosophy without philosophy.

To return to the poem’s opening stanza, when Ammons refers to modern philosophy’s attitudes about “truth,” “method,” the will to “believe” in whatever one wishes, and relativism, he immediately gestures toward key words and concepts of modern philosophy, and especially to buzzwords from the pragmatist lexicon. It almost sounds as if he has just read and set aside James’s chapters on “What Pragmatism Means,” “The Will to Believe,” and “Pragmatism’s Conception of the Truth” (with its argument that pragmatism “is a method only” and “does not stand for any special results”), or perhaps a more recent text in dialogue with pragmatism, like Hans-Georg Gadamer’s Truth and Method.

Ammons invokes the pragmatist preference for plural truths and its skepticism of monism and absolutes. At the same time, he also echoes the familiar (and much debated) negative characterization of pragmatism as envisioned by its detractors—that it is little more than a blithe endorsement of a profound relativism, a philosophy that holds one can believe whatever one wants or even nothing at all. The poem acknowledges that such a stance may be liberating, but also recoils from this perhaps troubling notion and its ramifications:

   I do not know that I care to be set that free
I am they say
	at liberty to be
provisional, to operate
expediently, do not have to commit myself

to impeturbables, outright 
   legislations, hardfast rules.

Ammons again echoes some of the terms used to define, and at times criticize, pragmatist philosophy as an outlook which calls for us to respond to the world provisionally, and to view “truths” as merely expedient (“what in short is the truth’s cash-value in experiential terms?” James famously asks).

To explain further the idea that truths grow out of the flow of experience rather than existing eternally on some ideal plane of universal truth, Ammons seems to echo James’s famous description of experience as a “blooming, buzzing confusion” we must navigate moment by moment:

   I suppose they mean I’ve had more experience than I can 
ever read about, taking in
as I do 
possibly a hundred sensations per second, conscious
   and unconscious

and making a vegetal at least
from them all.

From these modern philosophers, Ammons says he has learned that “philosophy is / a pry-pole, materialization, / useful as a snowshovel when it snows.” Although Ammons presents this in a somewhat negatively charged manner, pragmatists have always argued that philosophy should be a useful tool, to be employed in our everyday lives, rather than considered a final answer that ends our quest for answers to irresolvable metaphysical questions.

Noting that philosophy can also be used to “knock people down with / or back people up with,” and that “the philosophy gives clubs to / everyone,” Ammons claims, “I prefer disarmament.” In this way, the poet pulls back from the fray, the free-for-all quarrels of philosophic debate in a post-“Truth” context. “Isn’t anything plain true” the poem wonders rather poignantly. Well, no, the pragmatist would answer, not if you think “true” means some lasting, permanent quality inherent in an idea or thing, rather than something that happens to an idea in the course of experience.

Ultimately, Ammons’s poem seems to reel with queasiness, the vertigo that comes from accepting the anti-foundationalism of modern philosophy:

if I had something
   to conform to (without responsibility)

I wouldn’t feel so hot and sticky.

The speaker is palpably, physically discomforted by the recognition that he has no purchase on plain truth, nothing to hold on to. All that modern philosophers (like James or Wittgenstein) can offer us, Ammons suggests, is empiricism and experience rather than eternal verities or governing abstractions. What such an anti-idealist outlook demands is an attentiveness to the ever-flowing, ever-changing nature of a world defined by flux and chaotic dynamism:

they do say, though, I must give some force to facts,
	must bend that way enough,
be in on the gist of “concrete observations,” 
   must be pliant to the drift (roll with the knocks).

Here, Ammons seems to echo James’s famous definition of the pragmatist:

He turns away from abstraction and insufficiency, from verbal solutions, from bad a priori reasons, from fixed principles, closed systems, and pretended absolutes and origins. He turns towards concreteness and adequacy, towards facts, towards action and towards power. That means the empiricist temper regnant and the rationalist temper sincerely given up. It means the open air and possibilities of nature, as against dogma, artificiality, and the pretence of finality in truth. 

This privileging of facts, the close observation of concrete detail, and attentiveness to the contingency and flux of experience become the hallmarks of Ammons’s poetry from this point forward—a stance crystallized most succinctly and memorably in Ammons’s most famous poem, “Corsons Inlet,” which he would write soon after “Uh, Philosophy”:

        I see narrow orders, limited tightness, but will
not run to that easy victory: 
	still around the looser, wider forces work:
        I will try
to fasten into order enlarging grasps of disorder, widening 
scope, but enjoying the freedom that 
Scope eludes my grasp, that there is no finality of vision,
that I have perceived nothing completely,
        that tomorrow a new walk is a new walk. (151)

Within the realm of “Uh, Philosophy,” however, Ammons is less comfortable with the notion that “there is no finality of vision.” He balks at the idea that experience and facts must be revered above all else; the strictures of such a worldview seem too severe, too constricting. These philosophers, he avers, insist that “I must halter my fancy / mare / with these blinding limitations: / I don’t know that I can go along with that either” (96).

However, the stance Ammons challenges has more in common with the caricature of pragmatist philosophy presented by its critics than with pragmatism itself. James distanced his own stance from the “bugaboo empiricism” pragmatism’s “traditional rationalist critics” charge it with being—an outlook that “is accused of chopping up experience into atomistic sensations, incapable of union with one another” (Menand 133). James’s preferred mode—which he called “radical empiricism” to distinguish it from the bugaboo version—was actually designed to avoid the dangers of an atomistic view of the world as a mere collection of disconnected facts. Radical empiricism, like Ammons’ later poetry, takes into account the conjunctions and relations between things, by honoring the continuity of experience as well as its disjunctiveness.

In “Uh, Philosophy,” Ammons, like James, seems to reject the idea of a philosophy overly reliant upon facts and concrete observation. Even more so, he celebrates his own reluctance to go into battle armed with the blunt “club” of philosophy in the first place:

for though I’ve proved myself stupid by 33 years
   of getting nowhere

I must nevertheless be given credit for the sense wherewith
   I decided to never set out.

The passage mixes self-deprecation with a touch of self-congratulation. While the speaker admits that he, in his stupidity, may not have gotten very far yet in answering the big questions of life, he has also had the good sense to not try—to resist the promises of instrumental reason and goal-directed philosophy, and to opt, instead, for being a poet: one who is, as Keats famously argued, “capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.”

In the end, he seems to elevate the imaginative freedom and creativity of the poet over the intellectual combat of the philosopher:

What are facts if I can’t line them up 
        anyway I please
and have the freedom
  I refused I think in the beginning?

At first blush this sounds like a defense of poetic license and creativity and a final dismissal of philosophy. However, as Lieberman observes, Ammons ironically ends up pretty much where the poem began—upholding the “freedom” to believe what one wants to believe (to line up facts as one pleases). As the poem itself notes, this is the very stance that he initially attributed to modern philosophy and “refused” at the start of the poem (or at least that he thinks he rejected earlier). [2] By charting all the paradoxes and uncertainties of the speaker’s dialogue with himself, the poem depicts a troubled mind, one that is simultaneously suspicious of and attracted to the lessons of modern philosophy.

Although at this stage he remains guardedly wary of the consequences of pragmatism, Ammons will return again and again to its lessons, and become much less anxious about their ramifications. For example, in the long poem “Hibernaculum,” from the later 1960s, Ammons is decidedly more comfortable asserting “my philosophy” than in the earlier poem:

I hope my philosophy will turn
out all right and turn out to be a philosophy so as
to free people (any who are trapped, as I have been) 

from seeking any image in the absolute or seeking
any absolute whatsoever except nothingness:
nothingness far from being failure’s puzzlement,

is really the point of lovely liberation, when
gloriously every object in and on earth becomes just
itself, total and marvelous in its exact scope. (379)

This passage, like the hymn “Amazing Grace,” suggests the speaker once was blind but now can see: he used to be trapped in a fruitless search for the absolute, but now has found a philosophy that has released him from that quest. This philosophy has taught him, as he hopes to teach others, to find “lovely liberation” in a view of the “nothingness” that characterizes the world. As in many Stevens poems, like “Evening Without Angels,” “On the Road Home,” or “The Latest Freed Man,” where human beings see the universe de-divinized and are thereby freed to embrace its sensuous particularity, here Ammons suggests that once the quest for “Truth” is relinquished, the world becomes a glorious riot of particular details, each valuable in its own right. This philosophy, which sounds an awful lot like pragmatism, “allows freedom to fall / back from the thrust of the absolute into the world // so manifold with things and beings: the hollyhock, / what a marvel, complete in itself: the bee, / how particular, how nothingness lets him buzz // around…” (380).

Ammons’s direct contemplation of such philosophical themes paves the way for the wealth of more recent “philosophy poems” that I discussed at the outset, which would include Charles Wright’s “Reading Rorty and Paul Celan One Morning Early June” (1995). Wright, like Ammons, tries on a philosophical concept, again drawn from pragmatism (in this case from the neo-pragmatist philosopher Richard Rorty), and weighs its implications for how we view the universe around us:

If truth is made and not found,  
                                                                    what an amazing world 
We live in, more secret than ever,
And beautiful of access….

If sentences constitute
                                                      everything we believe,
Vocabularies retool
Our inability to measure and get it right,
And languages don’t exist.
That’s one theory.  Here’s another:
Something weighs on our shoulders
And settles itself like black light
                                                       invisibly in our hair … (10-11)

Both Ammons and Wright, like Stevens before them, respond to pragmatist ideas about truth, language, and perception, and examine how they might change our experience and understanding of the sensual, concrete world. If there is no such thing as transcendence, no single explanations, no complete perception or absolute truth, it is less cause for despair or nihilism than for elation. Poets fueled by the insights of pragmatism often resemble Stevens’s “Latest Freed Man”—“tired of old descriptions of the world,” he woke up one day and “escaped from the truth,” only to discover “everything being more real,” “everything bulging and blazing and big in itself” (187).

By dramatizing an experience of “reading the modern philosophers,” by charting his own turn toward a poetry of pluralism and radical empiricism, Ammons’s “Uh, Philosophy” is an important contribution to the ancient quarrel between poetry and philosophy—a conversation that has animated American poetry for decades and continues to trouble and energize the poems of our moment. Having absorbed the lessons of pragmatism and other modern, anti-foundationalist philosophies, Ammons begins to move beyond the old scheme in which it is philosophy’s job to strive for eternal truths, absolutes, and certainty, and poetry’s to produce nothing but imaginative creations—or what Plato disdained as fiction or lies. Once philosophy has relinquished the quest for certainty, and the two fields are no longer seen as diametrically opposed, poetry becomes an important vehicle for weighing philosophical ideas and testing their real-world effects. The contemporary “philosophy poem”—like pragmatism itself—is freed to explore new ways for us to come to terms with a world in which “truth is made and not found.” And what an “amazing,’” miraculous, abundant world it is, “more secret than ever, / And beautiful of access.”


[1] For example, see Richard Poirier’s The Renewal of Literature and Poetry and Pragmatism, Jonathan Levin, Ross Posnock, Timothy Parrish, Joan Richardson, Frank Lentricchia, Lisi Schoenbach, and Paul Grimstad. For recent studies that focus specifically on pragmatism and American poetry, see Andrew Epstein, Michael Magee, Ann Marie Mikkelsen, Raphael Allison, and Kacper Bartczak.

[2] Ammons’s language is strikingly similar to Marianne Moore’s in this poem (as are its oddly shaped stanzas)—more so than most other Ammons poems. Specifically, Ammons echoes the themes and language of “In the Days of Prismatic Color” (which similarly meditates upon “truth” and longs for “plain” verities: “complexity is not a crime, but carry / it to the point of murkiness / and nothing is plain”). Furthermore, the twisty, strange syntax and final rhetorical question sound a great deal like the ending of “Critics and Connoisseurs”: “What is / there in being able / to say that one has dominated the stream in an attitude of self-defense, / in proving that one has had the experience / of carrying a stick?”


Works Cited

Allison, Raphael. “David Antin’s Pragmatist Technophobia.” Journal of Modern Literature 28.4 (2005): 110-134.

Ammons, A.R. Collected Poems: 1951-1971. New York: W. W. Norton, 1972.

Ashbery, John. Can You Hear, Bird. New York: Farrar, Straus, 1995.

Bartczak, Kacper. “Pragmatism and Poetry: The Neo-Pragmatist Difference in the Discussion of Contemporary American Poetry.” Pragmatism Today 2.2 (2011).

Epstein, Andrew. Beautiful Enemies: Friendship and Postwar American Poetry.  New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.

Grimstad, Paul.  Experience and Experimental Writing: Literary Pragmatism from Emerson to the Jameses. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013.

Hass, Robert. Praise. Hopewell, NJ: Ecco Press, 1979.

James, William. The Writings of William James: A Comprehensive Edition. Ed. John J. McDermott. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1977.

Lentricchia, Frank. Ariel and the Police: Michel Foucault, William James, Wallace Stevens. Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1988.

Levin, Jonathan. The Poetics of Transition: Emerson, Pragmatism, and American Literary Modernism. Durham: Duke UP, 1999.

Lieberman, Laurence. “Of Mind and World: Northfield Poems by A. R. Ammons.” The Hudson Review 20.2 (1967): 315-321.

Magee, Michael.  Emancipating Pragmatism: Emerson, Jazz, and Experimental Writing. Tuscaloosa: U of Alabama P, 2004.

Menand, Louis. Pragmatism: A Reader. New York: Vintage, 1997.

Mikkelsen, Ann Marie. Pastoral, Pragmatism, and Twentieth-Century American Poetry. Palgrave, 2011.

Poirier, Richard. Poetry and Pragmatism. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1992.

—. The Renewal of Literature: Emersonian Reflections. New Haven: Yale UP, 1987.

Posnock, Ross. Color and Culture: Black Writers and the Making of the Modern Intellectual. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1998.

Parrish, Timothy. Walking Blues: Making Americans from Emerson to Elvis.  Amherst, MA: U of Massachusetts P, 2001.

Richardson, Joan. A Natural History of Pragmatism: The Fact of Feeling from Jonathan Edwards to Gertrude Stein. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2007.

Schoenbach, Lisi. Pragmatic Modernism. New York: Oxford UP, 2011.

Spiegelman, Willard. The Didactic Muse: Scenes of Instruction in Contemporary American Poetry. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1989.

Stevens, Wallace. The Collected Poems. New York: Vintage, 1954.

Wright, Charles. Negative Blue: Selected Later Poems. New York: Farrar, Straus, 2000.


Andrew Epstein is an Associate Professor of English at Florida State University. He is the author of Beautiful Enemies: Friendship and Postwar American Poetry (Oxford University Press) and Attention Equals Life: The Pursuit of the Everyday in Contemporary Poetry and Culture (forthcoming from Oxford). His essays have recently appeared in Contemporary Literature, Los Angeles Review of Books, Wallace Stevens Journal, and Jacket2, and he blogs about the New York School of poetry at Locus Solus.


Guest Criticism Editor Christopher Findeisen is a Ph.D. candidate in American literature at the University of Illinois Chicago. His dissertation examines how a particular genre of literary narrative—the academic novel—helped to restructure shifting ideological agreements about the meaning and social function of higher education across the 19th and 20th centuries. A selected chapter of this project—“Injuries of Class: Mass Education and the American Academic Novel”—is forthcoming from PMLA.