A Silence Opens Essay - Critical Essays

A Silence Opens

Amy Clampitt’s fifth book of poetry, A SILENCE OPENS, reveals the poet as a curious observer of the impulse to faith found in such religious leaders as Joseph Smith and George Fox. All experience captures her interest here, particularly that mystery often labeled as “revelation” or, depending on one’s culture, “kif” or “nirvana.” The title phrase appears in two poems that touch on the experience of spiritual transcendence and the ineffable.

Arranged in four parts with seven poems in each, A SILENCE OPENS is a carefully structured work. Like Walt Whitman, a notable presence in several poems, Clampitt writes of New York scenes and the American experience of discovery, but her view is tempered, at times, by late twentieth century pessimism. Where Whitman found hope in the future of democracy and progress, Clampitt sees lassitude in bedraggled Americans and public policy reduced to “the quaint ordeal of Trickle-Down” economics. History and nature are both silent about the American experience. Pocahontas, the early settlers who disappeared at Roanoke Island, as well as the present-day hordes who ride the Staten Island ferry offer no words of explanation. Language itself fails, finally, when the author attempts to understand the passion of religious experience.

A SILENCE OPENS may be Amy Clampitt’s most accessible work. As in her earlier books, playfulness with language and meter and use of such devices as alliteration, assonance, and consonance dominate. The more difficult, allusive poems are found only in part 4. Despite her joy in the pure sound of words, Clampitt has included in part 3 a number of elegies, giving this collection a sobering effect. A SILENCE OPENS, nevertheless, will be a joy for both the skilled reader of contemporary poetry and the novice.

Sources for Further Study

The Christian Science Monitor. June 9, 1994, p. 16.

Library Journal. CXIX, March 1, 1994, p. 90.

New England Review. XVI, Summer, 1994, p. 154.

The New Republic. CCXI, September 19, 1994, p. 51.

The New York Times Book Review. XCIX, May 15, 1994, p. 26.

Poetry. CLXV, December, 1994, p. 161.

Publishers Weekly. CCXLI, January 31, 1994, p. 78.

The Southern Review. XXX, Summer, 1994, p. 631.

The Washington Post Book World. XXIV, September 25, 1994, p. 8.

The Yale Review. LXXXII, July, 1994, p. 170.