Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Reading Love, Amy--Amy Clampitt's letters, selected and edited by Willard Spiegelman--I'm struck by the difference between the jewelled surfaces of her poems and her life, especially her involvement in progressive activist issues and politics. We've all grown so accustomed to "knowing" poets through their work; there's a presumption of confession, that what we are reading is true or nearly so, and that presumption is heightened when we attend a poetry reading and hear an author's anecdotal introduction to each poem (often taking longer to relate than the poem does to read). Some poets play with that presumption and deliberately lie, as a way of expanding the possibilities of a given poem's "truth"; James Dickey's poems seem fully observed, utterly lived, anecdote made into myth, when in fact many of the incidents he describes did not happen to him. (Some of the famous "nature poems" were drawn not from witnessed nature, but from watching one of those PBS Nova shows about the African ecosystem or the North Pole.)

Like Wallace Stevens, Clampitt in her poems offers very few anecdotes from life, and yet her actual life was filled with the sort of political commitment that often makes its way into poetry, with mixed results. Her letters are unusually rewarding, showing as they do an author who is engaged with a life outside of poetry, rather than a life that depends on it. http://www.csmonitor.com/2005/0823/p13s01-bogn.htm