When Amy Clampitt's first collection, The Kingfisher, was published, it was hailed as that rare first book that "signals a major poet in full bloom" (Los Angeles Times). Its author was sixty-three years old. Over the next eleven years, Clampitt produced four additional, major collections. Now, the most essential poems from these five volumes are gathered together.
Clampitt was an impassioned observer of the natural world, the delights of which color many of these poems: writing of the fog, she described "a stuff so single / it might almost be lifted, / folded over, crawled underneath / or slid between, as nakedness- / caressingsheets." Such was the texture of her language, too. She was a traveler, reporting back from England and Greece, from California and Maine, and from her native Midwest. An Iowa transplant to New York, the descendant of pioneers, she wrote of prairies and subways; of the movements of wildflowers, people, and ideas; and of the widespread modern experience of uprootedness.
Here is a treasure of Amy Clampitt's verse, for those who are reading her for the first time, as well as for those who have long admired her.
Riding all night, the bus half empty, toward the interior,
among refineries, trellised and turreted illusory cities,
the crass, the indispensable wastefulness of oil rigs
offshore, of homunculi swigging at the gut of a continent:
the trailers, the semis, the vans, the bumper stickers,
slogans in day- glo invoking the name of Jesus, who knows
what it means: the air waves, the brand name, the backyard
Barbie- doll barbecue, graffiti in video, the burblings,
the dirges: heart like a rock, I said Kathy Im lost,
the scheme is a mess, weve left Oklahoma, its cattle,
sere groves of pecan trees interspersing the horizonless
belch and glare, the alluvium of the auto junkyards,
were in Kansas now, weve turned off the freeway,
were meandering, as again night falls, among farmsteads,
the little towns with the name of a girl on the watertower,
the bandstand in the park at the center, the churches
alight from within, perpendicular ...
Amy Clampitt relished the chance... to reveal the immense power that words have to create the world instead of merely explaining it. Seeing, for Clampitt, encompassed all five senses: her poems, like the flora she loved so much, run rampant with sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and textures, and a rich harvest awaits anyone who delves into this selection of her best work... [she] brought a fresh way of seeing to American verse, and this edition, despite a few shortcomings, abundantly displays the bracing light that her words shone on the surrounding world.
(Reviewed by Marnie Colton).
Full Review (910 words).
About Amy Clampitt
Upon publication of her book of poems The Kingfisher in 1983, Amy Clampitt became one of the most highly regarded poets in America. Born in 1920 to Quaker parents and raised on a farm in rural Iowa, she graduated from Grinnell College, and from that time on lived mainly in New York City, later studying at Columbia University and the New School for Social Research. Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, Clampitt worked as a secretary at Oxford University Press, as a librarian at The Audubon Society, and as a freelance editor while she attempted unsuccessfully to write novels. In the 1960s she turned her attention to poetry, and in 1974 she published a small volume of poetry titled Multitudes, Multitudes; thereafter her work ...
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