Amy Clampitt Biography


(Poets and Poetry in America)

In a rare interview with Judson Brown for Daily Hampshire Gazette in 1987, then sixty-seven-year-old poet Amy Clampitt remarked, “I’m very much put off by this whole thing of making human interest stories about someone who published late.” Clampitt was addressing one of the most remarkable facts about her life as a poet: that her work remained relatively unnoticed until she was in her sixties. However, although she published “late,” her work is generally viewed as some of the most accomplished lyric poetry to come out of the United States in the late twentieth century.

Helen Vendler remarked of Clampitt’s landmark 1983 collection The Kingfisher,A century from now, . . . it will still offer beautiful objects of delectation, but it will have taken on as well the documentary value of what, in the twentieth century, made up the stuff of culture.

Although she was held in similar esteem as a “culture maker” by a host of other reviewers, who championed The Kingfisher and its highly anticipated 1985 follow up What the Light Was Like as monumental achievements, Clampitt shunned the limelight that her late-found fame afforded her. Thus, the facts of her life, especially of those sixty years before she burst on the literary scene, remain scant and sporadic. It is generally known, however, that Clampitt was born in 1920 in the farming town of New Providence, Iowa.

Even though poems like...

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Amy Clampitt’s luminous enunciations in The Kingfisher and What the Light Was Like brought her suddenly into the forefront of American poetry in the mid-1980’s. She is often linked, stylistically, with poets of a younger generation, such as Gjertrud Schnackenberg and Louise Erdrich, rather than with the writers who contributed to her formation, such as John Keats, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Hart Crane, Wallace Stevens, Marianne Moore, Louise Bogan, Elizabeth Bowen, and May Sarton. The awards she received (Guggenheim Fellowship, 1982; Academy of American Poets, 1984; American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, 1984; honorary doctorate, Grinnell College, 1984; writer-in-residence, College of William and Mary, 1984-1985; Hurst Professor, Washington University, 1987-1988; and MacArthur Fellowship, 1992) bear witness to the insistent, unsentimental, plucky intelligence that affirms an exalted state of female intelligence.

Clampitt was born and raised in Iowa on a fairly large farm. After college she studied at Columbia University in New York and afterward remained closely associated with publishing houses and research societies in the Northeast. In the 1960’s and 1970’s she traveled widely as a freelance writer, editor, and researcher; Greece and Italy made lasting impressions.

Her poetic voice, manifested in the powerful verse of the late 1980’s, often bears comparison to Medusa figures—beautiful, erratic,...

(The entire section is 559 words.)