|view from the room|
where Clampitt died
I've traded Middle Eastern sands for snow: a half acre or so of it, freshly fallen and packed across the fenced-in lot just a short uphill walk from the village center of Lenox, Massachusetts. After travelling almost twenty-four hours by plane and shuttle tram, by taxi, train and car, I've arrived from my home in Jordan's desert capital of Amman to the slate-grey Cape-style cottage on Neilsen Lane where Amy Clampitt and her life partner, Harold "Hal" Korn, spent a good deal of their final two years together before her death in 1994. I've come, in part, to visit a friend—a writer-in-residence picked to live and work among Clampitt's bookcases, antiques, and china—but I've also come in pursuit of what the poet herself identified in the seminal essay "Predecessors, Et Cetera" as "the livingness of the past."
By the time Clampitt and Korn bought the little house on Neilsen Lane—"We have no plans to move out of New York completely," she assured her family via letter in 1992, but want "a place to go to on weekends and in the summer, and eventually retire into"—Amy was already one of the most highly esteemed poets in America. (A fellowship from the MacArthur Foundation helped finance the couple's real estate purchase in Lenox.) The rise of Clampitt's literary celebrity, however, was as unconventional as the woman who lived in relative obscurity for sixty-three years before publishing her first full-length collection, The Kingfisher, in 1983 to widespread critical acclaim. Born into a Midwestern Quaker family, Clampitt graduated from Grinnell College and later abandoned graduate study at Columbia. She once worked as a reference librarian for the National Audubon Society, travelled abroad, briefly sublet her apartment in New York's Greenwich Village in order to help care for her schizophrenic sister in Iowa, took up the arts of jogging and ballet, refigured herself as a political activist, expressed in writing her conflicted feelings about psychoanalysis and the power plays accompanying serious love affairs, and even toyed with becoming an Episcopal nun. Throughout her six-odd decades of anonymity, Clampitt also drafted a series of failed novels and devoted much of her free time to self-education.
|clampitt's beach glass|
For more on Clampitt's house, selected letters, and poems, click over to West Branch to access "Dear Amy" in its entirety.
The Children (Paula Bohince)
Mule (Shane McCrae)