Love, Amy: The Selected Letters of Amy Clampitt

Love, Amy: The Selected Letters of Amy Clampitt

Love, Amy: The Selected Letters of Amy Clampitt

Love, Amy: The Selected Letters of Amy Clampitt

Synopsis

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.

Excerpt

One of the few disadvantages of living alone, it has just occurred to me, is that when one thinks one may have lost one’s voice there is no way to find out except by talking to oneself. At a quarter past two this morning, though I find the recollection slightly incredible, I was shouting my head off in Pooh-Bah’s lament from The Mikado while skipping up Bleecker Street in the company of several people who had a similar inclination to shout their heads off, though at the party we had just come from we had been doing exactly that for at least an hour. I now suspect that the singing had gone on too long and merrily, because when I finally got up a while ago and felt the inclination to burst into song (a Burl Ives lament I had just thought of), all I could raise was a hoarse squeak. The question now is, can I talk? Evidently I am not going to find out until this evening when I go out to dinner, because I simply cannot bring myself to say anything out loud with nobody but me around to hear it. This dilemma, aggravated by not being able to sing, has produced an irresistible urge to communicate. All of which is the long-drawn-out explanation of this letter. I am not sure which of us owes the other one one at this point, and that being the case I might just as well break the deadlock. I enjoyed your letter and I’m glad you enjoyed Gatsby, for sending which I had no particular reason except that it’s a good story and one which (unlike the majority of novels which on first reading you can barely put down) stands up under repeated reading. The usual critics’ explanation for the fascination of the character of Gatsby—and he is, of course, fascinating just because he is convincing and incredible both at the same time—is that he represents the American Dream, that peculiar mixed faith in romantic love and the power of money. He is a kind of mythical character, like Faust or Oedipus or the Little Mermaid, and the critics these days are very fond of myths. And so am I. Though for slightly different specific reasons, I think I have been getting the same feeling lately that you seem to have about psychologists— or at any rate about psychoanalysts. And they are all involved, so far as I can make out, in the creation of another Great American Myth. Since I don’t believe that myths are necessarily lies, this is not so much a condemnation as a rather weary, even wistful objection; because the psychoanalytic myth seems to be that There Is No Sin. Now it is fairly easy to trace the genesis of this proposition which may or may not be true: first there is the idea, which can make things quite messy, that Sex is Sin; so in order to make things less messy, this idea must be rooted out and . . .
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