03 August 2017

Poetry Thursday - Witness by Amy Clampitt

Taking a long-unopened slim volume from the shelf, I find its pages (dense with reference and resonance) turning brown, and tturn to my favourite poem in it -


An ordinary evening in Wisconsin
seen from a Greyhound bus - mute aisles
of merchandise the sole inhabitants
of the half-darkened Five and Ten,

the tables of the single lit café awash
with unarticulated pathos, the surface membrane
of the inadvertently transparent instant
when no one is looking: outside town

the barns, their red gone dark with sundown,
withhold the shudder of a warped terrain -
the castle rocks above, tree-clogged ravines
already submarine with nightfall, flocks

(like dark sheep) of toehold junipers,
the lucent arms of birches : purity
without a mirror, other than a mind bound
elsewhere, to tell how it looks.

from "What the Light was Like", published in 1985 (via)

Amy Clampitt (1920-1994) was born in rural Iowa, worked in publishing in New York, and did not achieve poetic fame until Kingfisher burst on the literary scene when she was 63, "with critics praising in particular the allusive richness and syntactical sophistication of her verse". Her sudden success was hailed as "one of the most stunning debuts in recent memory"; later the New York Times obituary called it "a delayed but auspicious beginning". (Read more about the critical reception of her work here.)

As for the poem - Edward Hopper could have painted the five-and-dime store, the single lit cafe; and who among us hasn't encountered an "inadvertently transparent instant" along the way?

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