Emily Wilson's superb memoir is a lovely, trenchant, poignant narrative of A.R. Ammons, the poet,
the all-too-human recluse, and Wilson's complicated but always truthful relationship with him.
This is the Archie Ammons I knew, someone full of bottomless curiousity, boundless creativity, great
sensitivity, and, at times, uncompromising meanness. It is also the tale of the other Archie Ammons
I knew -- someone so wonderfully gifted and yet so full of his own terrors, someone who had a rare
understanding of what it meant to be disaffiliated and menaced, and someone, just as powerfully, who could
write marvelous love letters to his wife, Phyllis, and could befriend someone as sullen as me. Emily Wilson
has given us the richest glimpse of what it means to be a major poet and a wonderful presence
(warts and all), and in prose that is so generous and revelatory that it returns us to wonder.
Like a good poem, this remembrance of the poet Archie Ammons is vivid, distilled, and potent.
Emily Wilson renders a brilliant selection of scenes from their nearly 30-year friendship to
give us a sense of Ammons's humor, his demons, and the indelible influence of eastern North Carolina
on the man and his work. Wilson delivers a deft balance of observation and reflection. No heavy
hand here; she knows just what to dramatize and then move the memoir along. The events of this story
thus become a fresh lens through which we read both his and her poems, inserted occasionally in
the narrative -- never a word wasted, but a brimming picture of genius.
As a native North Carolinian and great-granddaughter of a Primitive Baptist preacher/coffin maker
and his butter-churning, chicken-plucking, garden-growing wife, I fully understand what author
Emily Herring Wilson means when she writes that Archie Ammons 'didn't go in for fancy.' I, too,
am the product of plainspoken people who worked hard and never 'put on airs.' And thanks to Herring Wilson's
"When I Go Back to my Home Country": a Remembrance of Archie Ammons,
I feel a deep affinity with a poet I might never have otherwise known, save for the repetition of
his name around these parts. In her 'remembrance' of both the public and private lives of one
of our country's and certainly North Carolina's most lauded poets, Emily Herring Wilson introduces
to her readers, through her memories and those of others who were close to him, as well as examples
of his fine work and work of her own that he inspired, this decidedly three-dimensional, all-too-human
friend, husband, father, teacher, mentor, and writer. Archie's wonderful poem 'Glare' ends with these lines:
it is a sad song but
it sings and wants to sing on and on and when
it can no more it wants someone else to sing. . .
To her readers' good fortune, by penning this loving,
sometimes painfully honest homage, someone has."
--Terri Kirby Erickson
Reading When I Go Back to My Home Country becomes such an intimate experience.
I love the way Emily weaves times, events, people, observation and reflection, plus the poems throughout,
and beginning and ending at "the end" makes the whole an elegiac journey. Her voice is clear, honest,
knowing, humorous, and engagingly conversational. While reading, I felt I was sitting beside her
listening to her memories, sharing her insights as well as her wonder. She's a brilliant guide.
Obviously her relationship with the people about whom she writes is unique, privileged in its experiences
and its knowledge; that's a gift to the rest of us. Her attention to and reconstruction of all sorts
of detail stuns me. It's vivid, specific, and complex. I know she has said the writing of this memoir
was very difficult, but the flow of the narrative makes that seem hard to believe. The choices
she has made in what to include and in the organizing of those memories seem to me perfectly suited
to the subject. She has created a living portrait, and that's a most amazing achievement.