poem index

About this poet

Amy Clampitt was born on June 15, 1920, and brought up in New Providence, Iowa. She wrote poetry in high school, but then ceased and focused her energies on writing fiction instead. She graduated from Grinnell College, and from that time on lived mainly in New York City. To support herself, she worked as a secretary at the Oxford University Press, a reference librarian at the Audubon Society, and a freelance editor. Not until the mid-1960s, when she was in her forties, did she return to writing poetry. Her first poem was published by The New Yorker in 1978. In 1983, at the age of sixty-three, she published her first full-length collection, The Kingfisher (Alfred A. Knopf).

In the decade that followed, Clampitt published five books of poetry, including What the Light Was Like (Alfred A. Knopf, 1985), Archaic Figure (Alfred A. Knopf, 1987), and Westward (Alfred A. Knopf, 1990). Her last book, A Silence Opens (Alfred A. Knopf), appeared in 1994. The recipient in 1982 of a Guggenheim Fellowship, and in 1984 of an Academy Fellowship, she was made a MacArthur Foundation Fellow in 1992. She was also a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and taught at the College of William and Mary, Amherst College, and Smith College. She died of cancer in September 1994.


Selected Bibliography

Poetry

The Collected Poems of Amy Clampitt (Alfred A. Knopf, 1997)
A Silence Opens (Alfred A. Knopf, 1994)
Manhattan: An Elegy, and Other Poems (University of Iowa Center for the Book, 1990)
Westward (Alfred A. Knopf, 1990)
Archaic Figure (Alfred A. Knopf, 1987)
What the Light Was Like (Alfred A. Knopf, 1985)
The Kingfisher (Alfred A. Knopf, 1983)
The Summer Solstice (Sarabande Press, 1983)
Multitudes, Multitudes (Washington Street Press, 1973)

Prose

Predecessors, Et Cetera: Essays (University of Michigan Press, 1991)
The Essential Donne (Ecco Press, 1988)
A Homage to John Keats (Sarabande Press, 1984)


Multimedia

From the Image Archive

 

Syrinx

Amy Clampitt
Like the foghorn that's all lung,
the wind chime that's all percussion,
like the wind itself, that's merely air
in a terrible fret, without so much
as a finger to articulate
what ails it, the aeolian
syrinx, that reed
in the throat of a bird,
when it comes to the shaping of
what we call consonants, is
too imprecise for consensus
about what it even seems to
be saying: is it o-ka-lee
or con-ka-ree, is it really jug jug,
is it cuckoo for that matter?--
much less whether a bird's call
means anything in
particular, or at all.

Syntax comes last, there can be
no doubt of it: came last,
can be thought of (is
thought of by some) as a
higher form of expression:
is, in extremity, first to
be jettisoned: as the diva
onstage, all soaring
pectoral breathwork,
takes off, pure vowel
breaking free of the dry,
the merely fricative
husk of the particular, rises
past saying anything, any
more than the wind in
the trees, waves breaking,
or Homer's gibbering
Thespesiae iache:

those last-chance vestiges
above the threshold, the all-
but dispossessed of breath.

From The Collected Poems of Amy Clampitt, published by Alfred A. Knopf. Copyright © 1997. Used with permission from the Estate of Amy Clampitt.

Amy Clampitt

Amy Clampitt

Amy Clampitt was born on June 15, 1920, and brought up in

by this poet

poem
a stone at dawn
cold water in the basin
these walls' rough plaster
imageless
after the hammering
of so much insistence
on the need for naming
after the travesties
that passed as faces,
grace: the unction
of sheer nonexistence
upwelling in this
hyacinthine freshet
of the unnamed
the faceless
poem
cold nights on the farm, a sock-shod
stove-warmed flatiron slid under
the covers, mornings a damascene-
sealed bizarrerie of fernwork
        decades ago now

waking in northwest London, tea
brought up steaming, a Peak Frean
biscuit alongside to be nibbled
as blue gas leaps up singing
        decades ago now
poem
past parentage or gender
beyond sung vocables
the slipped-between
the so infinitesimal
fault line
a limitless
interiority

beyond the woven
unicorn   the maiden
(man-carved   worm-eaten)
God at her hip
incipient
the untransfigured
cottontail
bluebell and primrose
growing wild   a strawberry
chagrin   night