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This review is taken from PN Review 104, Volume 21 Number 6, July - August 1995.

POETRY-IN-AGE AMY CLAMPITT, A Silence Opens (Knopf) $20.00

The voice is Jamesian, belletristic, a brilliant condensation. The poetry it shapes is high-risk, obsessed with 'the West', climbing to the high narrow ground. The poems themselves seem as instinct with the chromosomal shimmy as with Greyhound buses, dust-bowl ecology and the Mesozoic. Each of her five books is that rare contemporary thing: book-as-object; beautifully produced (in the American editions) and carefully organised, the several pages of end-notes in their own way as much a pleasure as the poems themselves. Clampitt applies a classifying knowledge (she worked latterly as a librarian for the Audubon Society) to the natural world, which is all the more beguiling for her genuine - and informed - delight in bristly technical detail. Her approach reminds the reader that because of their original casuistry the Puritans were known as Predsionists. Hers is an intellect supremely 'engaged in the hazardous/redefinition of structures/no one has yet looked at' ('Beach Glass'): its own substance 'electron-charged, precarious -/all tenuously made of consciousness' ('An Anatomy of Migraine'). In her personal Galapagos, that' redefinition' marks her out as the moralist she is.

Her fifth book's title is chiasmatic, a silence opening as the life closes. Amy Clampitt died in September last year, at the age of 74. She was virtually unknown to the literary world until The Kingfisher (1983) appeared in late middle-age and signalled the advent of a remarkable talent, one whose humour, exotic properties and imagined particulars might have been applauded by both Bishop and Moore. Her ...


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