Amy Clampitt was born on June 15, 1920 of Quaker parents, and brought up in New Providence, Iowa. In the American Academy of Arts and Letters and at nearby Grinnell College she began a study of English literature that eventually led her to poetry.
After graduating she lived mainly in New York City where she worked as a secretary at the Oxford University Press, a reference librarian at the Audubon Society, and a freelance editor. She returned to writing poetry in her forties, and her first poem was published by The New Yorker in 1978.
She published her first full-length collection, The Kingfisher, at the age of sixty-three and became one of the most highly regarded poets in America. In the decade that followed she produced a further five books of poetry. Her ability as a poet quickly gained Clampitt recognition as “the most refreshing new American poet to appear in many years,” according to one Times Literary Supplement reviewer. Her last book, A Silence Opens, appeared in 1994.
She also published a book of essays and several privately printed editions of her longer poems. She taught at the College of William and Mary, Smith College, and Amherst College, but it was her time spent in Manhattan, in a remote part of Maine, and on various trips to Europe, the former Soviet Union, Iowa, Wales, and England that most directly influenced her work. Clampitt was the recipient of a 1982 Guggenheim Fellowship, a MacArthur Fellowship (1992), and she was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Poets. She died of cancer in September 1994.
Keats was one of the poets she most revered and prompted a number of poems about him and a book “A Homage to John Keats” published in 1984. To quote Amy Clampitt herself: “what attracted me immediately to the poems of Keats, and later of Hopkins, is the way they draw on and evoke physical sensation in all its luscious variety”. A Times Literary Supplement review of her collection “What the Light Was Like” commented that her “own imagery throughout is sensuous (even lush) and specific— in short, Keatsian” and “there are stirring moments in each poem, and an authentic sense of Keats’ psychology.”
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