Ammons was born near Whiteville, N.C., in 1926 and graduated from Wake Forest University in North Carolina, where he
received a bachelor's degree in biology. He began writing poetry while serving onboard a U.S. Naval destroyer during World War
II. Before coming to Cornell in 1964, he attended graduate school at the University of California-Berkeley, worked as an
elementary school principal in Cape Hatteras, N.C., as a real estate salesman, an editor and as a sales executive at his father-in-
law's New Jersey glass company. His first book of poetry was published in 1955.
The citation for Ammons' 1973 National Book Award reads in part: "In the enormous range of his work, from the briefest
confrontations with the visual to long powerful visionary poems, he has extended into our present and our future the great
American tradition of which Emerson and Whitman were founders."
Roald Hoffmann, a 1981 Nobel laureate in chemistry as well as a poet and Ammons' colleague at Cornell, described his friend as
a "natural philosopher" in an address he gave during Cornell's "Ammonsfest" -- a celebration of Ammons' life and work held on
campus in 1998. "His search, gentle yet insistent, is for a philosophy of nature -- a metaphysics always, an epistemology of
openness to the connectedness of things and ideas, its inherent logic, an aesthetics rooted in the wonder of it all and reinforced
by the purposive harmony of his poems, an ethics, even an eschatology of the very real world."
Fellow North Carolinian, Robert Morgan, novelist, poet and Cornell Kappa Alpha Professor of English, spoke of faculty member
Ammons' willingness "to take the unpopular point of view in a discussion, to be advocate for the truly disadvantaged, the outsider.
He was always able to surprise us. He was a presence, a leader."
Of Ammons' poetry, Morgan said, "Though he was famous for the fine abstraction of his poetry, he was also capable of vivid and
significant detail. The high abstraction of his thought was wedded to an immediate idiom, a living voice. He was one of the most
distinctive voices in American poetry. There is no one like him."
Phyllis Janowitz, Cornell professor of English, spoke of her long friendship with Ammons saying, "He was the most generous man
and friend anyone could know or have; he made everyone feel like the only one."
Roger Gilbert, Cornell professor of English, appeared with Ammons at the Women's Community Building in downtown Ithaca for a
reading last spring -- Ammons' last public appearance as it turned out. Gilbert, who has included Ammons' works in one of his