What the Light Was Like

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

This second volume of Amy Clampitt’s poetry confirms her reputation as the most impressive voice to emerge in American poetry in the 1980’s. Hers is not, however, a young voice: Clampitt, who is now in her mid sixties, did not begin publishing her poetry in magazines until 1978, and her highly acclaimed first book, THE KINGFISHER, did not appear until 1983.

Further, her voice is venerable not only in its age, in the ways that it reveals a lifetime of travel, reading, and sensitive observation, but also in its themes and style. The predominant concern of her poetry is with loss--the loss of home, close relations, beauty, poetic power, memory, even nature itself--and her meditative treatments of this theme place her firmly in the elegiac tradition of classical and British poetry.

In its traditional themes, its highly wrought form, and its many literary allusions, Clampitt’s poetry seems a throwback to the kind of decorous academic verse which was popular in the 1950’s. In other ways, however, Clampitt speaks more directly to contemporary American concerns. This immediacy is most conspicuous in part 4 of the book, “The Metropolis,” where Clampitt treats the issues of ecology, urban poverty, and the threat of nuclear war. Her contemporary sensibility profoundly affects the entire book in that she explores the traditional elegiac theme of loss in modern American terms. Specifically, Clampitt contrasts the appeals of home and mobility,...

(The entire section is 410 words.)