Last Updated on May 11, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 549
The most striking characteristic of these poems is the vigorous use of extension, by means of which metaphors and concepts are given full carrying power and amplitude. For example, the sound of buoys and bells appears as a leitmotif representing frozen moments in time. Ubiquitous plants and birds symbolize raw elements of human emotion. Women’s work is cataloged, and diligence and labor are given epic stature. Insects and flowers are magnified. Landscapes are projected into memory. The poet’s personal shatterings and dilemmas are universalized into archetypes of bewilderment. The poetry is loaded with associations and suggestions, as in “Antiquity unshrouds on wimpling canvas,/ adjunct of schoolhouse make-believe” (“Imago”). “Wimpling canvas” is typical of Clampitt’s inventiveness, since the playful, clever “wimpling” conjures an image of heavily draped art that allows ancient (“dead”) history to unfold in the mind of an elementary school student taught by nuns wearing “wimpled” habits.
Other extrapolations include westward trekking—associated with the forced migrations of American Indians. Water is identified with music, as in “tambourines of rain” (“The Edge of the Hurricane”). In part 2, there are numerous ghostly presences. Memory is connected to physical movement—“the ancestral flyway” (“A Procession at Candlemas”). Destruction is related to “the unseen filament . . . that runs/ through all our chronicles” (“The Dahlia Gardens”). Such density implies not only linguistic control but also fairly rigid structures. As a result, the longest poems are formally proportioned: “A Procession at Candlemas” is written in triplets; “Rain at Bellagio” is composed of twelve stanzas neatly permeated with reciprocal sounds. “The Dahlia Gardens” is arranged in a similar fashion, with alliteration acting as a controlling device. In lines 13 to 22, fourteen words beginning with the letter c establish an eerie sequence of associations: “clash,” “counterpart,” “concrete,” “cushioned,” “chariots,” “calculus,” “carrying,” “clocks,” “chronicles,” “calibrations,” “clerks,” “chain,” “concentric,” and “corridors.” This poem is replete with an equal number of alliterative f’s, d’s, and w’s. In addition, Clampitt’s use of enjambments, at least by conventional standards, provocative.
About one-third of the poems in The Kingfisher are geometrically organized with clearly established forms. For example, “Or Consider Prometheus” is written in ten quatrains; iambic pentameter, often extended into alexandrines, is the dominant feature. Poems with stanzas of equal measure appear often, with the number of lines varying from three (“Berceuse”) to twelve (“Times Square Water Music”). “The Cormorant in Its Element” is a variation on a sonnet.
The Kingfisher pulls into focus Clampitt’s attempt to identify contrasts and contradictions: everyday life and intellectual finesse, home life and travel, commitment and rejection, past and present, myth and history. The narrative voice reflects these tensions as the poetry swings from personal appeal to ironic self-detachment. In the same way, the tone shifts from the elegiac and defiant to the capricious and wistful; the poet rarely instructs, yet confidence gained from experience produces an edifying effect. Clampitt offers subtle clues to underscore her intentions: Males have for too long possessed an unfair social advantage, and consequently they have disrupted the female conscience by attempting to define women’s destiny. Clampitt’s signature poem, “Rain at Bellagio,” identified the process by which continuous observation fuses “the fragments of experience into . . . a single scheme.” By this method, cadences rise and fall in an unpredictable arch of conjurations.
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