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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


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)


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

A Silence

Amy Clampitt

past parentage or gender
beyond sung vocables
the slipped-between
the so infinitesimal
fault line
a limitless

beyond the woven
unicorn   the maiden
(man-carved   worm-eaten)
God at her hip
the untransfigured
bluebell and primrose
growing wild   a strawberry
chagrin   night terrors
past the earthlit
unearthly masquerade

(we shall be changed)

a silence opens


the larval feeder
naked   hairy   ravenous
inventing from within
itself its own
raw stuffs'
hooked silk-hung

behind the mask
the milkfat   shivering
sinew   isinglass
uncrumpling   transient
greed to reinvest


names have been
given (revelation
kif   nirvana
syncope)   for
whatever gift
gives birth to

reincarnations of
the angels
Joseph Smith

a cavernous
compunction driving
who saw in it
the infinite
love of God
and had
(George Fox
was one)
great openings

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

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

Daily the cortege of crumpled 
defunct cars 
goes by by the lasagna-
layered flatbed 
truckload: hardtop 

reverting to tar smudge,
wax shine antiqued to crusted 
winepress smear, 
windshield battered to
intact ice-tint, a rarity

fresh from the Pleistocene. 
I like it; privately 
I find esthetic
The West Village by then was changing; before long
the rundown brownstones at its farthest edge
would have slipped into trendier hands. She lived,
impervious to trends, behind a potted hedge of
rubber trees, with three cats, a canary--refuse 
from whose cage kept sifting down and then 
germinating, a yearning
While you walk the water's edge,
turning over concepts
I can't envision, the honking buoy
serves notice that at any time
the wind may change,
the reef-bell clatters
its treble monotone, deaf as Cassandra
to any note but warning. The ocean,
cumbered by no business more urgent 
than keeping open old accounts