The Selected Letters of Amy Clampitt
Columbia University Press, Hardcover, 9780231132862, 336pp.
Publication Date: June 29, 2005
This extraordinary collection of letters sheds light on one of the most important postwar American poets and on a creative woman's life from the 1950s onward. Amy Clampitt was an American original, a literary woman from a Quaker family in rural Iowa who came to New York after college and lived in Manhattan for almost forty years before she found success (or before it found her) at the age of 63 with the publication of "The Kingfisher." Her letters from 1950 until her death in 1994 are a testimony to her fiercely independent spirit and her quest for various kinds of truth-religious, spiritual, political, and artistic.
Written in clear, limpid prose, Clampitt's letters illuminate the habits of imagination she would later use to such effect in her poetry. She offers, with wit and intelligence, an intimate and personal portrait of life as an independent woman recently arrived in New York City. She recounts her struggle to find a place for herself in the world of literature as well as the excitement of living in Manhattan. In other letters she describes a religious conversion (and then a gradual religious disillusionment) and her work as a political activist. Clampitt also reveals her passionate interest in and fascination with the world around her. She conveys her delight in a variety of day-to-day experiences and sights, reporting on trips to Europe, the books she has read, and her walks in nature.
After struggling as a novelist, Clampitt turned to poetry in her fifties and was eventually published in the "New Yorker." In the last decade of her life she appeared like a meteor on the national literary scene, lionized and honored. In letters to Helen Vendler, Mary Jo Salter, and others, she discusses her poetry as well as her surprise at her newfound success and the long overdue satisfaction she obviously felt, along with gratitude, for her recognition.
Willard Spiegelman is the Hughes Professor of English at Southern Methodist University and has been editor of the "Southwest Review" since 1984. He lives in Dallas, Texas.