resides in Detroit. His poems and articles appear widely in periodicals in the USA, UK, Canada and Australia including, most recently, Acumen (England), The Barefoot Muse, Blue Unicorn, International Poetry Review, Poem, Re: Arts & Letters, The Christian Century, Galley Sail Review, The Hypertexts, Lines Review (Scotland), The Lyric, Envoi (Wales), Plains Poetry Journal, Raintown Review, South Coast Poetry Journal, Studio (Australia), Haiku Scotland, New Hope International (England) and many others.
--Back to Prose Contents--
A Reading of Amy Clampitt’s On the Disadvantages of Central Heating and Lindenbloom
When Amy Clampitt’s The Kingfisher appeared in 1983, one might rightly describe the literary community as being caught completely off-guard. Rarely does a first volume of poems demonstrate such technical virtuosity and formal authority, offer so generous a sampling of verse (nearly 150 pages) and arrive from the hands of a poet at the age of 63. Despite the initial surprise, Clampitt’s sharply defined perceptions, luxurious diction and broad range quickly won admirers in high places who compared her poetry to that of figures as diverse as Keats, Hopkins and Marianne Moore. The comparisons were not wholly unjustified.
Of the fifty titles in The Kingfisher, I should like to pick two relatively short poems to explicate in order to understand, in retrospect, Clampitt’s immediate and triumphant reception. I might as easily have chosen any number of other excellent works—“Meridian,” “Slow Motion,” “Camouflage,” “Times Square Water Music” and “Balms” presently come to mind—but the two poems I will discuss have the great advantages of brevity and of being exemplary representatives of the poet’s style.
The title, “On the Disadvantages of Central Heating,” calls up curious echoes of Restoration and 18th century verse, undoubtedly with tongue-in-cheek intent, for despite the generic statement of motif that it affords, Clampitt’s aims are neither didactic nor expository. Her matter, in fact, is far more intimate as her casual tone and anecdotal method quickly demonstrate:
cold nights on the farm, a sock-shod
Underlying the conversational manner, however, are the frequent would-be spondees in collocations of such long syllables as “sock-shod” or “stove-warmed,” plus a tendency for the strongly marked stresses to hover between three or four beats, with most verses resolved, due to the common phenomenon of stress demotion, to a three-beat or tripodic norm. The density of her diction, the tendency of the verses to run-on freely and the close approximation to a strong-stress meter explain why Hopkins and Moore were so often cited as influences on Clampitt. These same factors, also, account for the curious tension between the boldly marked rhythm and the intimately relaxed conversational speech-patterns.
“On the Disadvantages of Central Heating” continues through five balanced quintets to relate the author’s relived sensations of what occurred “decades ago now”:
… what’s salvaged
“Lindenbloom,” the other poem I have chosen for illustration, is deceptively simple: three verse-paragraphs of 10, 10 and 12 lines respectively, and as with “On the Disadvantages of Central Heating,”only occasional and irregular end-rhyme. The many incidents of alliteration, assonance and consonance are muted, largely, by placement in mid-verse positions and by frequent enjambment. An end-stop is here an exception and not a rule. Where “On the Disadvantages of Central Heating” coyly flirted with now three and now four beats, without committing itself wholly to either, “Lindenbloom” similarly teases now two, now three beats but, again, reconciles itself more commonly to the tripodic line.
“Lindenbloom” moves the reader far away from the sweet pastoral innocence of better days on the farm or in Dorset to the sensory voluptuousness and grandeur of a midsummer visit to the “pleasure- / garden of the popes / at Avignon.” Clampitt, again, trusts to her powerful sensory impressions of the past as the basis for her present creative understanding. Here, the activity of bees overhead in the aromatic blooms of the lindens recalls the decadence of the former high church seat at Avignon:
Read the poem, “On the Disadvantages of Central Heating,” at the Academy of American Poets website.
Read and hear the poet recite the poem, “Lindenblooms,” at the Dia Art Foundation website.