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Archaic Figure


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We admire Clampitt most of all for the degree to which her poetry imitates, in idealized form, the refined but tortuous convolutions of human consciousness of the highest order. She treats her craft as the great synthesizing art. There is no aspect of myth, history, civilization, nature or everyday human existence excluded from her probative meditations. Terror, headache and drowning are powerful, recurrent emblems in her third book, particularly when she examines the thwarted lives of intelligent women, creating a brooding subcurrent to the controlled and dazzlingly wrought surface of her writing. As always, texts and subtexts multiply on successive readings. All her poems are constructed as mirrors in many-sided boxes. There may be other poets who write poems as rich and dense as Clampitt's, but none so consistently generous and rewarding. Archaic Figure takes its place beside The Kingfisher and What the Light Was Like as a perdurable masterpiece of contemporary poetry. (March)

Acclaimed for her first two books ( The Kingfisher , LJ 1/15/83; What the Light Was Like , LJ 5/1/85), Clampitt here shows that her strengths remain a sharp observation of nature, clear insight into the human mind and heart, and lyric gift for blending the two. S he also uses Greek history and myth well, offering a surprisingly ardent tribute to the soldiers at Thermopylae: ``Tell/ them for whom we came to kill and were killed, stranger,/ how brute beauty, valor, act, air, pride, plume here/ buckling, guttered.'' But though earnest, her biographical poems on the Wordsworths, George Eliot, and Margaret Fuller are tedious and undistinguished, and ``An Anatomy of Migraine'' is a self-indulgence as bad as Joan Didion's on the same topic. In the remaining poems, Clampitt's excellences may happily be savored.Frank J. Lepkowski, Oakland Univ. Lib., Rochester, Mich.

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