Briefings Collection

When you think of nature, do you think of something serene or foreboding? A sunset on a placid sea, or a dark, crowded jungle? The fascinating thing about nature is its vast versatility and its ability to evoke so many feelings. In the poetry book, Briefings: Poems Small and Easy (1971), the American poet A.R. Ammons explores how nature reflects human emotions and helps us understand life. 

Briefings Collection Briefings Collection

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Contents
Table of contents

    Briefings Collection, Sunset on a Boat, StudySmarterFig. 1 - Ammons expresses human emotions through the use of natural imagery.

    Briefings Collection by A.R. Ammons: Introduction

    Briefings: Poems Small and Easy is a collection of more than 80 short lyric poems by the American poet A. R. Ammons (1926‐2001).

    Lyric poems are short, songlike poems that typically convey strong emotions from the first person perspective.

    Briefings was published in New York by Norton publishers in 1971. The poetry book won the National Book Award for Poetry in 1972. Many of the poems found in the book Briefings were previously published in literary journals and magazines, including Poetry, The Hudson Review, The New York Times, and Southern Poetry Review.

    A.R. Ammons also won the 1981 National Book Award for Poetry for his book A Coast of Trees (1981).

    Ammons is known for writing unique, experimental forms of poetry that are not defined by traditional styles and structures. A.R. Ammons grew up in rural North Carolina and developed an early love and fascination with nature, which is apparent in his poetry. The poems in Briefings focus on the theme of nature and how it reflects the meaning of human life and emotion.

    Briefings Collection by A.R. Ammons: Summary

    The poetry collection opens with a poem called "Center," which is made up of 20 short lines. The poem sets the tone for the collection by painting vivid natural imagery that overlaps to create a landscape full of power, sound, and movement:

    "A bird fills up the

    stream side bush

    with wasteful song,

    capsizes waterfall,

    mill run, and

    superhighway

    to

    song's improvident

    center"

    (1‐9)

    Ammon's poetry is built on the exploration of nature as a reflection of the human state, experience, and thought process. In "Center," the poet presents the abundance of nature as a reflection of human feelings of being unable to find one's way through the world.

    Briefings Collection, Forest Creek, StudySmarterFig. 2 - The poet depicts how sunlight is reflected on streams but is never entirely caught.

    This introductory poem establishes Ammons' aim of writing to reflect nature. However, the poet simultaneously understands that nature is something that can never be fully captured or encompassed in writing because it must be experienced firsthand.

    A.R. Ammons organized the poetry collection alphabetically by the first lines of his poems. Notice how the first poem, "Center," starts with "A."

    A.R. Ammons explores human emotions of embarrassment and feelings of being overwhelmed. He mingles seemingly scientific perspectives of nature with deeply personal sentiments that address the speaker's feelings of foolishness in a humorous tone. For example, in the poem "Up," he writes:

    "A clown kite, my

    self rustles

    up

    to any gust:

    warps & which's

    the wind: O

    my blustering orange

    and striped green

    immensities!

    I get sometimes so

    good

    tickled at my

    self I slip

    flat down"

    (1‐14)

    The poet presents human life as a journey of unending searching and difficulty. Nature is not a solution or answer to the struggles of human existence, but rather an experiential platform and means of understanding the mysteries of life. In "Return," Ammons writes he "climbed the peak but / found no foothold / higher than the ground" (22‐24). The poet depicts life as a journey through the desert in which the speaker wonders how to find his "center and periphery" (39).

    The metaphorical journey that Ammons presents in his poetry explores the human need to find a center. The idea of finding a center joins the collection and is clearly reflected in numerous poems, including "Center," "Locus," "Circles," and "Poetics." In "Poetics," Ammons writes, "I look for the way / things will turn / out spiraling from a center / the shape / things will take to come forth in" (1‐5).

    While reading through the poetry collection, look for more examples of how Ammons explores this idea of center. What do you think center means to the poet? What does it mean to you?

    The idea of center relates to the search for where human life comes from and how life, and lives, take shape. The poet frequently depicts a person traveling to the center of the earth, which to him is in the midst of the wilderness, amidst the ruthless truths of nature.

    Ammons also intertwines nature with modern human life. In the poem, "Elegy for a Jet Pilot," Ammon portrays a plane crash through the imagery of nature that surrounds a plane that has crashed by a creek:

    Mays Landing creek

    shot pinecones,

    skinned huckleberry

    bush, laurel

    swarths define

    an unbelievably

    particular stop."

    (14‐20)

    "Elegy for a Jet Pilot" exemplifies Ammons' characteristic ironic tone, as he describes a horrific plane crash simply as an "unbelievably / particular stop." The poet plays with shifts between an intense, immersive tone developed through vivid imagery and a personal, nearly sarcastic tone. He blurs lines between the vast atmosphere of questioning the universe and personal, cutting thoughts and commentary.

    Throughout the poetry collection, questions of existence and mortality are addressed through expressions of human feelings. In the poem "Cut the Grass," Ammons conveys the delicacy of the human state:

    I'm nervous: my mortality's intricate: if

    a squash blossom dies, I feel withered as a stained zucchini

    and blame my nature" (4‐6)

    Briefings Collection, Squash Flower, StudySmarterFig. 3 - Imagine this squash flower withering up to imagine how the speaker in the poem feels.

    Most of the poems in Briefings deal with this question of searching for the meaning and place of human life within the vastness of nature and the universe. This is clearly expressed in the poem "Concerning the Exclusions of the Object," in which Ammons writes:

    Today I

    looked for myself,

    head full of

    stars,

    cosmic

    dust in my teeth,

    and small,

    lost

    as earth in such a

    world" (1‐10)

    The Briefings collection appropriately ends with a poem in admiration of the perfection and generosity of life revealed through nature. Ammon's last lines in the book's final poem, "The City Limits," are:

    leaf does not increase itself above the grass, and the dark

    work of the deepest cells is of a tune with May bushes

    and fear lit by the breadth of such calmly turns to praise." (16‐18)

    "The City Limits" is the only poem in Briefings that does not follow the pattern of being alphabetized by the first line.

    The poet acknowledges how the mysteries of nature, though sometimes forbidding, ultimately result in admiration and praise for life. The more it is studied, the more it can be appreciated, and the more it lends perspective to human life.

    Briefings Collection, Forest Trail, StudySmarterFig. 4 - The ending poem, "The City Limits," focuses on how light touches every aspect of life. It leaves readers with a subtly hopeful sentiment as light touches even the depths and darkness of nature.

    Briefings Collection by A.R. Ammons: Meaning

    The overall meaning of Briefings by A.R Ammons is that life is experienced through a series of struggles and human emotions of fear, anxiety, and uncertainty, which can be represented and understood through the mysteries of nature.

    Briefings Collection by A.R. Ammons: Poem Analysis of Literary Devices

    A.R. Ammons repeatedly uses similar literary devices in Briefings: Poems Small and Easy. Looking at the opening poem, "Center," one can see the poet's use of syntax, enjambment, natural imagery, alliteration, and repetition:

    A bird fills up the

    stream side bush

    with wasteful song,

    capsizes waterfall,

    mill run, and

    superhighway

    to

    song's improvident

    center

    lost in the green

    bush green

    answering bush:

    wind varies:

    the noon sun casts

    mesh refractions

    on the stream's amber

    bottom

    and nothing at all gets,

    nothing gets

    caught at all."

    A.R. Ammons frequently uses a run-on sentence syntax, in which entire poems are a single sentence split up by line breaks, commas, and colons. Frequent use of colons is a signature of Ammons' style. The poet uses colons in a variety of contexts, but primarily to separate ideas within a single sentence and to preface coming ideas.

    What do you think is the purpose of the colons in this particular poem?

    The combination of Ammons' unique use of syntax and enjambment creates a piling, additive effect to his use of imagery. For example, in "Center," the poet describes a waterfall as a "superhighway / to / song's improvident / center / lost in the green / bush" (6‐11). The poet's use of enjambment allows descriptions to flow into one another and naturally develop a fuller picture of what the poet is describing.

    Briefings Collection, Waterfall, StudySmarterFig. 5 - A waterfall represents the strong, powerful beauty of nature, but also the idea of excess and the feeling of being overwhelmed.

    Ammons further emphasizes this flow through the use of alliteration. For example, in the opening lines, "A bird fills up the / stream side bush / with wasteful song / capsizes waterfall," the repetition of the "S" and "W" sounds carry the lines forward and string the ideas of excess together.

    A.R. Ammons also uses repetition at the end of the poem, repeating words in the final lines, "and nothing at all gets, / nothing gets / caught at all" (18‐20). The repetition in the language is suggestive of the refracted, repetitious patterns of light on water, which creates a "mesh" net-like image (15).

    Syntax is the way words and phrases are arranged to form a sentence.

    Enjambment is the continuation of one line of poetry into the next without pause or punctuation.Imagery is descriptive language that appeals to the senses.Alliteration is the repetition of initial sounds in nearby words.Repetition is when certain words, phrases, or ideas are repeated within a text.

    While reading Briefings, look out for how A.R. Ammons uses these devices in other poems.

    Briefings Collection by A.R. Ammons: Themes

    A.R. Ammon's poetry book focuses on the themes of human emotions and nature.

    In Briefings, human emotion and ambition well up inside, ballooning into a sort of pride that is brought back down to Earth. Nature is a humbling force, as is seen in poems such as "Up" and "High & Low." In "High & Low," the speaker metaphorically climbs a mountain as prompted by his feelings of restlessness. However, the height and wind are so strong that he falls "down the slopes to / small rock / and scattered weed" (14‐16).

    Briefings Collection, Mountain Climbing, StudySmarterFig. 6 - Throughout Briefings, A.R. Ammons characterizes human life as a series of high and low moments and emotions.

    The poet explores human emotions of uncertainty, embarrassment, and fear. Rather than portraying life and nature in a glorified fashion, Ammons explores the capacity of nature to reflect the discomforts of life. For example, in his poem, "The Black Rich Country," he writes: "leave me this black rich country, / uncertainty, labor, fear: do not / steal the rewards of my mortality" (13‐15). The poet understands human life as encompassing a capacity for hardship and uncertainty.

    Briefings presents feelings of fear through the imagery of nature. Ammons frequently characterizes life as a state of anxiety and anticipation. In one of the shortest poems, "The Mark," he paints a striking image of fear, anxiety, and betrayal:

    I hope I'm

    not right

    where frost

    strikes the

    butterfly

    in the back

    between

    the wings."

    However, ultimately, Ammons expresses that the mystery of nature, though capable of amplifying fear, also points to the greater purpose and beauty of human life. Everything in nature is made of perfect intricacies that make life function strangely, impeccably. This realization lends hope to human life.

    Briefings Collection - Key takeaways

    • Briefings: Poems Small and Easy (1971) is a collection of 87 short lyric poems by the American poet A. R. Ammons (1926‐2001).
    • Briefings won the 1972 National Book Award for Poetry.
    • The overall meaning of Briefings is that life is experienced through a series of struggles and human emotions of fear, anxiety, and uncertainty, which can be represented and understood through the mysteries of nature.
    • Throughout Briefings, A.R. Ammons frequently uses literary devices such as syntax, enjambment, natural imagery, alliteration, and repetition.
    • The poetry book focuses on the themes of human emotions and nature.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Briefings Collection

    When was "Briefings" collection published?

    "Briefings" collection was published in 1971.

    What are the themes in "Briefings" collection?

    The themes in "Briefings" collection are nature and human emotion.

    What is "Breifings" collection about?

    "Briefings" collection is about the human search for center and meaning in light of daily life and nature.

    Who published "Briefings" collection? 

    Norton publishers in New York published "Briefings" collection.

    What is the main message in "Briefings"?

    The main message in "Briefings" is that life is experienced through a series of struggles and human emotions of fear, anxiety, and uncertainty, which can be represented and understood through the mysteries of nature. 

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    What is the title of the first poem in the collection?

    True or False: The poem, “Elegy for a Jet Pilot” exemplifies Ammons’ characteristic ironic tone.

    What is the title of the final poem in the collection?

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