When Clampitt ( What the Light Was Like ) turns to the legend of Pocahontas in her poem, ``Matoaka,'' to uncover the woman behind the ``bronze-immobilized, the heathen / princess, demure in / feathered deerskin'' who has become little more now than ``bric-a-brac,'' she finds that history, like language, needs continual reformulation: ``As words do, / the words we used once, whatever they / once stood for gone. / Begin again. Go back to Majesty, / the word personified, a woman.'' In line with this credo, Clampitt's gravely luminous fifth volume of poems dwells, with an extraordinary certainty of language, on the uncertain texture of living. Color suffuses an evocative sequence of poems: in ``White,'' that color of ``the mirror-haunch of / pronghorn'' leads next, in ``Green,'' to the ``half-membranous / sheen of birth'' and then, in ``Thinking Red,'' to ``the clotted winter melancholy / of the sumac; hawthorn encrimsoned, / dogwood beaded.'' Finally, in ``Nondescript,'' even the lack of color approaches an ``in-betweenness, this process that's less / an advent than it is a wandering vaguely.'' Clampitt's landscape is still and painterly, a canvas suggestive of elegy and mourning as ``the mind gropes toward its own recessional.'' And though her mood is somber, her rhythms are exhilarating: the poems dance with intensity as she calls up abbreviated syllabics, pointillist images, staccato litanies, parenthetical asides and quixotic questions begging: ``For what? Can someone tell us?'' (Feb.)
Clampitt is a mature writer now offering her fifth collection of poems (following Westward , LJ 3/15/90), but she retains an adolescent's giddy enthusiam for words. Over the years, her language has grown more abstruse, her phrases more impacted; the dense, multifaceted works that result will stump some readers and enthrall others. It can take some digging to figure out what Clampitt is after, though it's worth it; here, she is frequently concerned with historical and literary context and spiritual quest. One particularly ambitious poem, Seed , shows the range of Clampitt's methods and the intricacy of her concerns; it moves from a fine description of ``the elm trees' chaffy currency to a woman death and implied rape to the link between sex and religion to Walt Whitman, ``celebrating his procreative urge'' as he commandeers American literature. Perhaps the first poem, ``Syrinx'' has the last word on Clampitt's work as it describes ``pure vowel/ breaking free of the dry, the merely fricative/ husk of the particular, rise/ past saying anything, and/ more than the wind in/ the trees.'' Here is poetry not as a commendation of being but simply as being itself. Important for anyone who reads poetry.-- Barbara Hoffert, ``Library Journal''