Often compared to the work of decidedly Metaphysical poets like John Donne, Wallace Stevens, and Marianne Moore, Amy Clampitt’s poetry is, in comparison to that of most of her contemporaries, metaphorically dense, richly allusive, and structurally complex. Although she shares with many late twentieth century poets a penchant for the short lyric, her predispositions differ markedly from those of poets such as Adrienne Rich, Robert Lowell, and Sylvia Plath. Whereas these writers use poetry primarily as a vehicle for intimate self-examination, Clampitt’s work celebrates the textures and intricacies of the external rather than the internal. Her poetry, time and again, looks to the natural world as the wellspring of imagination and uniformly basks in its glory. The sometimes terse, sometimes playful, always challenging idiom in which she works reflects the complexity of a world of which she is both observer and taxonomist, subject and object.
Multitudes, Multitudes and The Isthmus
Some have dismissed Clampitt’s early collections Multitudes, Multitudes and The Isthmus as “a mere foreshadowing” of her later work, but writing the entry on Clampitt for Dictionary of Literary Biography, Robert Hosmer observed that both books contain a number of exciting poems worthy of consideration, particularly for their mythological resonance and visionary force. Poems such as “A Christmas Cactus” and “The Eve of All Souls” take on what Hosmer calls a “liturgical” assertiveness as they seek to fuse both Christian and personal mythologies into a unifying logos. Although at a mere fifteen poems The Isthmus is a much briefer project, it signals an important turning point in Clampitt’s work. The Isthmus largely turns its attention from myth and allusion to natural imagery and the delights of the physical world, particularly of the place where land meets sea. Poems such as “The Lighthouse” achieve a balance between immediacy and abstraction that anticipates Clampitt’s later, better-known efforts:
A dripping sleeve of incandescence sweeps the cove, unrolls the corridor . . . like a sleepwalking familiar— lightening mollified, a newly calibrated force of nature.
Critic Paul Olson observed of Clampitt’s first major volume, The Kingfisher, that it is “a book of tough stuff, full of dirt and doctrine.” Indeed his description aptly characterizes the...
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