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This article is taken from PN Review 46, Volume 12 Number 2, November - December 1985.

Catching Fire: The Poetry of Amy Clampitt Rodney Pybus

Few new poets in recent years on either side of the Atlantic have established themselves so prominently with a single collection as Amy Clampitt with The Kingfisher, published in the USA two years ago. However, as Michael Hofmann pointed out in these pages when reviewing the British edition, the enthusiastic praise was nearly all transatlantic. Hofmann himself, while conceding that 'it is our own chronic failing that we mistrust novelty in general, and new hope in particular', and that there were half a dozen or so poems that were 'the real thing, work for whose existence one just has to feel gratitude', was noticeably lukewarm, accusing Clampitt of 'kitsch' in many of the poems and concluding that the majority looked 'positively fraudulent' in comparison with the few nuggets.

Perhaps it is only fashion that accounts for the relatively 'sniffy' cisatlantic reception, but there is a current suspicion here of poetry which tries to use anything like a full range of linguistic resources, which delights in rich verbal textures, which alludes guiltlessly to sciences and to other arts. In the recessive 1980s, it would appear, we should go for verse that is plain, well-mannered and unobtrusive, flattish or acidic in tone, unencumbered with unusual diction and untainted by displays of exuberance. It is one of the many pleasures (if they are still allowed) to be found in The Kingfisher that here is a poet who continually finds the possibilities of language exciting, who relishes the feel and flavour ...


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