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Saturday, June 18, 2016

A summertime reading delight

“Some very plausible stuff is being written by women in a way that most men are not doing.”  Amy Clampitt
Born this week in 1920, Clampitt was a reference librarian at the Audubon Society and working as a freelance editor in New York when her first poem was published (by The New Yorker) in 1978.  In 1983, at age 63, she published her first full-length collection, The Kingfisher.  Until her death from cancer in 1994, Clampitt published five books of poetry, including the award-winning What the Light Was Like.

So transformative was her work that she was awarded the prestigious MacArthur Grant (the Genius Grant) in 1992 as she was working on what would become her final book, A Silence Opens.  Today, for Saturday’s Poem, is an example of Clampitt’s stunning, thoughtful writing.  It’s a bit longer than my normal selection for Saturday’s Poem, but worth every extra second – I promise! 

Beach Glass by Amy Clampitt
While you walk the water's edge,
turning over concepts
I can't envision, the honking buoy
serves notice that at any time
the wind may change,
the reef-bell clatters
its treble monotone, deaf as Cassandra
to any note but warning. The ocean,
cumbered by no business more urgent
than keeping open old accounts
that never balanced,
goes on shuffling its millenniums
of quartz, granite, and basalt.
It behaves
toward the permutations of novelty—
driftwood and shipwreck, last night's
beer cans, spilt oil, the coughed-up
residue of plastic—with random
impartiality, playing catch or tag
or touch-last like a terrier,
turning the same thing over and over,
over and over. For the ocean, nothing
is beneath consideration.
The houses
of so many mussels and periwinkles
have been abandoned here, it's hopeless
to know which to salvage. Instead
I keep a lookout for beach glass—
amber of Budweiser, chrysoprase
of Almadén and Gallo, lapis
by way of (no getting around it,
I'm afraid) Phillips'
Milk of Magnesia, with now and then a rare
translucent turquoise or blurred amethyst
of no known origin.
The process
goes on forever: they came from sand,
they go back to gravel,
along with treasuries
of Murano, the buttressed
astonishments of Chartres,
which even now are readying
for being turned over and over as gravely
and gradually as an intellect
engaged in the hazardous
redefinition of structures
no one has yet looked at.

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