421 CHRONICLESnlook I said to the leavesnbreaking into flocks around mentakingnmy voice awaynto the far side of the hillnand way beyond gusting downnthe long changesnFortunately, Ammons does not worshipnnature on bended knee. If he findsnspiritual and intellectual satisfaction innhis dialogues with mountains, songbirds,nand colorful stones, he just asnoften writes whimsically. Ammons’snrange of subject and response is a goodnmeasure of his talent, but it also revealsna larger incompleteness in his quest. Henhas not finally discovered the source ofnhis troubles, his reason to write. He maynbe acknowledging as much in the openingnof “Periphery.” He complains ofn”thickets” and of “keeping charts/ ofnsymptoms, every reality a symptom/nwhere the ailment’s not nailed down.”nOne might, of course, take exceptionnto what sounds here like a prescriptionnfor the lazy relativism so common toncontemporary Anierican poetry. Add tonthis the presence of titles like “Conservingnthe Magnitude of Uselessness,” andnone might worry that Ammons’s successnhas come at a price. For somenreaders, no doubt, his work will smell ofnthe lamp, and his treatment of questionsnof existence will be too tentative ornmetaphysical. But as I read him,nAmmons is in earnest. He relies on thenproblems and metaphors that naturenand experience provide, and he does sonin language marked by lucidity andnimagination.nWhere Ammons satisfies least, itnseems to me, is in his handling of poeticnform. As I read through The SelectednPoems, I found fewer and fewer effortsnat structured verse. And while his freenverse is entirely better than most, hisnlack of rhyme and sustained meter—nwhich is the very music of poetry —ndrives even his best writing out ofnmemory. His line divisions follow thenfashion of isolating single words withoutnregard for natural pause. While thisnsupposedly startles the reader into anheightened awareness of word meanings,nits cumulative effect is to rupturenthematic continuity and obstruct thenreader’s breathing. But rejection ofnform — or is it simply inattention? —nshould hardly surprise us in a poet asnspeculative as A.R. Ammons, and thisndeficiency by no means spoils thenpleasures of this new selection of hisnwork.nWilliam C. Rice is a graduate studentnat the University of Michigan.nIn Search ofnAbsolutesnby Thomas P. McDonnellnFleeing the Whore of Babylon:nA Modern Conversion Story bynJames J. Thompson, Jr.,nWestminster, MD: ChristiannClassics.nCaveat lector—shortly after glancingnthrough the early pages of James J.nThompson, Jr.’s accurately but flamboyantlyntitled Fleeing the Whore ofnBabylon, I wondered how in this valenof tears I could complete the jobnassigned to me by Chronicles. Howndreadful to contemplate yet anothernconversion-to-the-One-True-Faith story,nthis conversion, moreover, fromnSeventh-Day Adventism. I had recentlynread the novelist Mary Gordon’snaccount of her own conversion fromnMormonism to the Roman CatholicnChurch and knew that she had sincengone hopelessly trendy; besides, givenme good solid converts from atheism,nagnosticism, and the general Europeanndisillusionment.nd^Pf •nAmerican sectarians are thentoughest. Barely into chapter two, thenone entitled “Gonnye” (a juvenile corruptionnof “Granny,” the author’snBible-thumping grandmother and implacablenfoe of Roman Catholic devilsneverywhere), I nearly threw the booknacross the room and decided to tellnChronicles I could not handle the job.nBut it all came to life for me whennThompson emerges from adolescencenand makes contact with the worldnbeyond Comus and Takoma Park,nMaryland, especially when he himselfnnnconfesses that Maryland was indeed anrather curious place for his belovednGranny’s anti-Catholic animus. Whennbooks became extremely important tonhim, he began to read Chesterton,nBelloc, Peguy, Maritain, and at onenpoint says that it was Graham Greenenwho helped save his life. (A mostnpowerful feat by perhaps the least likelyncandidate for salvific duties in annotherwise imposing roster of Catholics.)nBe it as it may, from the verynbeginning of adult consciousness,nJames Thompson, Jr. was a man innsearch of absolutes. But a man innsearch of absolutes is one who, innJung’s theory of individuation, can takena quantum leap towards either the likesnof an Adolf Hitler or the more benignnfundamentalism of a Jerry Falwell or annOral Roberts. Instead, Thompson tooknto the high road of pure abstractionismnand sought such idealizations as Southernncivilization, laissez-faire capitalism,nand finally the Roman CatholicnChurch. Though all three categoriesnwere left relatively unshaken by thenencounter, the last of these proved tonbe the most understanding and receptive.nJames Thompson, Jr. became anRoman Catholic.nThompson’s journey into certitudenwas nonetheless shaky for all that. Hensubsequently found himself in andnout of marriage in almost equal partsnto his having been in and out of thenchurch and back again. The attractionnof Holy Mother the Church (an oldnpreconciliar term) continued to be sonpowerful, however, that Thompsonnsoon saw himself as one pursued by thendreadful Whore of Babylon that hadnonce haunted Granny’s imagination.nHe has written some nice but rathernsuperficial essays for the New OxfordnKeview, which were later published bynIgnatius Press, and which he now admitsnto have been the products of merenenthusiasm. With this book James J.nThompson, Jr. has obviously maturednas a Catholic Christian, though stillndeprived of the Eucharist because ofnmarital complications and earlier oversights.nWe are left with a better-thanusualnconversion story, and if it still hasna long way to go, we wish him exceedingnwell.nThomas P. McDonnell is a free-lancenwriter living near Boston.n