Foreword by Mary Jo Salter


The Collected Poems of Amy Clampitt

Her earliest memory was of blue violets. At the age of seventy, in an essay called "Providence," Amy Clampitt retrieved with remarkable clarity her sensations on the day of a younger brother's birth:

It is the twenty-sixth of April, 1923, I am not yet three years old. . . . My father's sister Edith . . . is leading me past barns and through feedlots to the outermost grove. What holds these details in place is the sight, out under those trees, of a bed of violets whose hue I cannot reach except by way of a later metaphor:  the contained intensity of a body of water. It is as though I became in that instant aware of edges, shores, boundaries, limitations. The shell had cracked: an exodus, an expulsion, was under way.

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What holds these details in place: it's a quintessential Clampitt touch, implying that even our memories have their physical home, and could lose it. The firstborn of Roy and Pauline Clampitt's five children never lost the sense of her early childhood as a paradise from which she was expelled. Its area was some three hundred acres, land belonging to her paternal grandfather and partly farmed by her parents, in the hamlet of New Providence, Iowa (pop. 200). There she developed an ease in the natural world that was a delight in itself, and also linked with the pleasures of naming and remembering. She knew, for instance, that her passion for bird-watching began at the age of five, when the same Aunt Edith showed her a rose-breasted grosbeak.

The expulsion somehow foreseen in the violets came when she was ten. Her parents took out a mortgage, one that proved a great hardship, on a farm less than three miles away. Unlike the comforting home her grandparents had shaded with fruit trees and silver poplar and red cedar—and brightened, too, with beds of transplanted wildflowers whose colorful names she mastered—the bleak new house on Pioneer Farm was on a windswept, nearly treeless crest overlooking a graveyard of the prairie's first settlers. Amy Clampitt never forgot that she was the descendant of pioneers. The widespread modern experience of being uprooted, willingly or not, would be a signature theme in her poems, from the purely autobiographical "Black Buttercups" (where she is pictured as a girl "weeping at the thought of exile") to the panoramic "Sed de Correr," where the poet Cesar Vallejo is shown "running away from what made one."

She wouldn't know she was a poet for many years—and wouldn't publish a book, amazingly, until she was sixty-three. But she had known as a child that she was different from the others, some of whom teased her on the bus ride to the New Providence Consolidated School, which she attended for all twelve grades. Conformity and complacency were what she came to feel was being inculcated. She had an early conviction of not wanting to grow up to do what women apparently did—get married, have children, be imprisoned by household chores—and she always identified less with her mother than with her father, an independent-spirited man of literary interests who had turned down a job as school principal to become a farmer.

Her parents sent her to Sunday school with everybody else. New Providence had been settled by Quakers from North Carolina who, after the Great Revival, had fallen into a "benighted" hybrid, as she thought, of church and meetinghouse—hymns but no baptism, sermons but no communion—and she received a good biblical education. Impatient with authority all her life, as a child she shrugged off organized religion as "already obsolete." Throughout periods of religious experience in adulthood that ranged from doubt to intense Episcopalianism to disillusionment, and then to some sort of private peace with her enduring inconsistencies, she retained a love of the bells and candles and gestures, the multilayered music and language of church. Praise of God's works always pleased her deeply. Gerard Manley Hopkins was the first poet she loved, and she often said she'd never have become a poet without him.

Social discomfort, hymns ringing in the ear, a Quaker's respect for silence, a farmgirl's penchant for naming the things of the natural world: together an ideal formula for creating a poet. Add, too, that childhood view of a graveyard, where (as a number of Clampitt poems will tell you) the wind polishes names away.



 When I knew Amy Clampitt—from 1979 until her death in 1994—she was often interpreting the lessons of her childhood, however indirectly, through her poetry. Oddly, then, my sense of who she was is clearest in the first and last fifteen years of her life, while she's only an acquaintance in the decades in between.

In fact she was thirty-four years my senior, and we would probably never have become such close friends if I hadn't assumed she was roughly my age. I was working as the sole reader of unsolicited manuscripts at The Atlantic Monthly, and my torpor at the end of each day was such that only a really luminous poem could have burned through the fog. Fittingly, two of the sensuous, playful, musically complicated poems in the envelope I emptied one afternoon were called "Fog" and "Gradual Clearing." I recognized the author’s name from a quirkily vivid poem, “The Sun Underfoot Among the Sundews,” recently published in The New Yorker (her first in the magazine—so wouldn’t she be rather young?), and I decided, after passing on the new poems to the Atlantic’s poetry editor, Peter Davison (who took one), that I would write this Amy Clampitt of New York a fan letter. In it I mentioned that I was twenty-four, wrote poems, and would like to trade a few with her sometime; but enclosed none.

Her immediate reply—on June 5, 1979, a day that expanded the boundaries of my life—was so exuberantly grateful that you could practically see her jumping up and down. (Later Amy would write me that she’d begun to get an inkling of who she was when traveling in Europe in the forties, or more precisely, “the minute I crossed the border into Italy at Ventimiglia—I was free to show excitement, as I’d never quite been anywhere else.”) Despite all my gratitude, in the years to come, for her help with my poems and for what I learned from being sent most of hers in progress, I was surprised by her first letter’s declaration that “to have evoked such friendliness from a younger poet amounts to nothing less than a milestone.” We were “of different generations,” she wrote, though she never did stop refusing to tell me her age, or even her birthday, which she made a point of not celebrating. (She was born on June 15, 1920: sometime in the nineties, after she got into reference books, I secretly looked her up.)

Hoping I wouldn’t feel “swamped,” she enclosed in her first letter a booklet of her poems, Multitudes, Multitudes, which a friend had printed for his short-lived private press in 1974, and she demurred, “You’ll find lots of excesses, throes of self-expression, and all the weight of the grand tradition. Milton, yet!” But apparently she had subtler tastes too: she was writing from the “delectably silent and foggy lobstering village” of Corea, Maine. She signed the typed letter in an angular, nearly illegible hand that the amateur graphologist in me felt sure belonged to a birdlike frame.

Which it did, as I discovered when she opened her door to me and my husband-to-be in New York not long after. Tall, seemingly weighing nothing at all in her ballet slippers, she had a lightness of foot and manner that put one in mind, immediately, of a child. Her dark brown hair, graying only a little then, was put up behind with a hippie’s leather barrette, though she had also trained two wide chin-length locks to fall over her rather comically large ears. She was less able (though she tried, with long, elegant fingers that were always flying upward) to hide a beautiful gap-toothed smile. She listened intently, but when she spoke she became a rapid, revved-up, high pitched machine that rarely paused except for an attack of the giggles.

Amy had been living for a decade with Harold Korn, a Columbia Law School professor, whom she’d met at a gathering for Democratic Party supporters. She’d been a doorbell-ringer for Eugene McCarthy. The unconventionality of her life with Hal, added on to her girlishness, was reason to feel—as I always did, rather jealously—that she was actually younger than I. Amy and Hal had a fraying psychedelic poster of Bob Dylan’s profile tacked to the living-room wall (though it got paler and less psychedelic every year), and piles of papers and books and LPs installed permanently, it seemed, on the floor and on the dining-room table. Things got done because one wanted to do them; whenever Amy or Hal bought a present on impulse, they’d say, “You haven’t had a birthday in a while.” She was, I would learn, a step-saving cook, an infrequent dishwasher, and—most liberating of all—merely a visitor in her own home. The Upper East Side apartment wrapped with large windows, where she woke up every day and kept her manual typewriter, was not hers; it was Hal’s. She had a little place of her own in the West Village which she rarely occupied, offering it now and then to friends, but whose mere existence occupied an enormous, freeing space in her imagination.

Over a cup of tea one day, on a visit to that autonomous but otherwise nondescript Village apartment, I began to understand how ungirlish and grave, how attuned to the tragedy of life, my new friend could be. Prompted by her fond references to a nephew, I asked if she had ever wanted children. “Oh no,” she said, “when we dropped the bomb on Hiroshima I knew that this wasn’t a world I wanted to bring children into.” Even then I guessed that her reasons had been more complex, but there was no gainsaying her sincerity. Nor did I dare smile when she added, as deadly serious as if she’d seen combat, that she’d “had to take tranquilizers all through the Vietnam War.” Amy took politics—and everything else—personally. I later learned that she had left the Episcopal church (after years of commitment so fervent she had considered becoming a nun) because she felt its leaders had not been sufficiently outspoken against the war.

Such personalizing of the world was a burden and a virtue that enabled her to write her most brilliant, because most far-fetched, poems—like “The Dahlia Gardens,” in which she gets inside the burning body of the young Quaker, Norman Morrison, who doused himself with gasoline as an anti-Vietnam protest. Or like “Beethoven, Opus 111,” in which her father’s ill-advised attempt to rid his farm of poison ivy by setting a patch ablaze is compared to the struggles of the revolutionary Romantic composer. Or “The Prairie,” in which the coincidence of her grandfather’s birthyear with Chekhov’s opens the drama of the Clampitt family’s migrations and aspirations and nervous ailments, of the dispossession of Native American lands, the exile of Joseph Brodsky, and the “landless, exquisite” nomadism of Henry James.

Even very local politics—the protracted legal efforts of her Greenwich Village landlord to evict his nonresident tenant, so that the building could go co-op—helped shape “The Prairie,” her longest and perhaps most ambitious poem. As she wrote me in January of 1989,

Given the obvious shortage of apartments anybody can afford, not to mention the homeless, I can’t write about it in the fairly ironic tone I once affected. A couple of weeks ago, I woke one morning before daylight, so angry that I began phrasing a piece about it in the manner of Talk of the Town; but by the time I sat down . . . I’d gotten out my manuscript of “The Prairie” and made Manhattan the springboard.

The poem, which she had sent me earlier in fifteen-line stanzas, was sliced into tercets and reshuffled ingeniously, almost beyond recognition: it now began in a Manhattan elevator shaft, and its original first line, imagining the birth of Chekhov, was inserted deep into page three.

Amy’s Greenwich Village struggle also colored years’ worth of nature poems with obliquely political content—charmingly observed but moral-laden sketches of weeds too stubborn to be eradicated. Though she would preserve for book publication only two of her “Vacant Lot” series, they were thematic cousins of poems she did keep like “Kudzu Dormant” and “Fireweed” and “Nothing Stays Put” and “The Spruce Has No Taproot” and “Real Estate.” I thought of her childhood uprooting, and also of her Village landlord, when in a late interview she declared her role as a poet to be “maintaining a subversive attitude, the opposite of going along with anybody’s program whatever. It amounts to wariness about being co-opted.”  



A political protest had given her the courage to call herself a poet for the first time. In 1971, participating in what was called the Daily Death Toll, she had demonstrated outside the White House against the bombing of North Vietnam. Identifying signs were provided for the protesters—Teacher, Student, Farmer, Poet—and she picked up the sign marked Poet.

But what was she doing before that—before owning up to her vocation at fifty-one? It took me a while to piece together Amy’s gestation as a writer. She had written a few poems while at Grinnell College in Iowa, but by the time she escaped the Midwest for New York City she was fairly sure she would become a novelist. Dropping out in the first year of a graduate fellowship at Columbia University—she was no scholar, she insisted with some justice, though her curiosity was keener and broader than anybody’s I’ve ever met—she took a job as a secretary at Oxford University Press. Secretary? Remembering her filing, or piling, system at home, I can only conclude she was valued at work for her literary sharpness. She wrote advertising copy and won a company-sponsored essay contest, whose prize was a trip to England. It, and a follow-up journey around Europe a few years later, when she quit the Oxford job, changed her life; it confirmed in her, as she said later, “the livingness of the past.”

You feel her enduring Anglophilia in joyful poems that surfaced years later, like “Exmoor” or “On the Disadvantages of Central Heating,” and her sense of England’s historical “livingness” in her poems in which the Wordsworths and Keats and George Eliot and Virginia Woolf speak and write. It was in England, too, that she embarked on a serious romance, which was resumed unhappily in New York. I never asked her about it, but clearly the affair upended her. The title poem of her first book, The Kingfisher, would record a breakup that had mired her in “uninhabitable sorrow.”

The return to New York brought a new job that was ideal for a Central Park bird-watcher—reference librarian for the Audubon Society—and a renewed commitment to distill her copious journals into fiction. She wrote three novels in the fifties, none of them to see publication, though she took herself seriously enough to find an agent. (The manuscripts, which I haven’t read, were recently discovered in an overlooked cupboard more than two years after her death.) The novelist Edmund White knew nothing of Amy’s attempts at fiction when for The Nation in 1983 he wrote his extraordinarily canny review of The Kingfisher. He praised her for “a strange fusion of an ambition to narrate and a talent for suppressing the tale. . . . No story has been told, but the high heat of alchemy has been generated.” A close friend from the forties on, Phoebe Hoss, read the novels as they were written. She remembers them as intricately plotted and ornately descriptive, and as illustrating a difficulty Amy had in real life: so morally charged herself, she couldn’t always accept the shades of gray in people. Yet the portrayal of character independent from plot—character in itself—could be one of Amy’s fortes.

The portraitist emerges not only in her biographical poems on great figures but in little-remarked poems like “A Hedge of Rubber Trees,” which deftly sketches a few funny-sad encounters with a Greenwich Village eccentric. Amy’s letters to her many friends and family were Dickensian in their vitality, brimming with humorous accounts of people she’d met once and might never meet again, yet for whom she often felt some instant shock (always surprised: that was her mode) of admiration and empathy. Not only people. Asking after my cat, she wrote,

I don’t know if I ever told you about the time, the only time, Hal and I ever had what could be called a pet—namely a housefly that lingered on in cold weather, and whose tactful behavior (such as not alighting on the edge of a coffee cup, but merely somewhere near by) finally endeared itself to us, and who acquired the name of Leporello, for no reason except that when I asked Hal what his name was, that was what came out. Eventually, of course, something happened to him—we were never sure what—and we had by then endowed him with so many traits that there was something more than a mock desolation.

Surely her failure to publish fiction reinforced her diffidence about going public with the poems she turned to in the sixties. But upon moving in with Hal, and buoyed by his encouragement, she took up the banner of Poet and published her chapbook and began to send poems to magazines. In 1977 (by now she was an editor at E. P. Dutton) she took a poetry workshop whose graduation ceremony, so to speak, was a group-reading in a bar. A breakthrough: she relished having an audience. And then, in 1978, she won her most coveted audience yet, the poetry editor of The New Yorker.

Howard Moss embraced the richness of language in Amy’s poems—as he saw them, they were an antidote to the prevailing literary minimalism—and the career boost afforded by his loyal championship can hardly be exaggerated. But despite her frequent appearances in The New Yorker from 1979 onward, and her accelerated leaps of development, book editors weren’t biting. The manuscript she thought of as her first book—having outgrown and dismissed the pamphlet Multitudes, Multitudes—changed title and contents and organization many times. The book’s more Maine-focused incarnation as The Outer Bar, which I proposed unsuccessfully to The Atlantic Monthly Press in 1980, contained a handful of poems never seen again. She tried versions out on several more publishers before my husband, Brad Leithauser, suggested she send The Kingfisher to his new editor at Knopf, Ann Close, in 1982. Alice Quinn, the originator of the Knopf Poetry Series (and the successor to Howard Moss at The New Yorker upon his death in 1987), called up with  the news that she was accepting the book and would edit it.

A few hours later, Ann Close, who would eventually edit Amy’s last three books, made a follow-up call to congratulate her. “She not here,” Hal answered breezily, “she’s outside. In fact, think she’s outside skipping. You know, she’s only three years old.”

The sixty-three-year-old girl skipping the streets of New York was about to receive one of the warmest receptions for a first book of poems by any American in this century. Helen Vendler in the New York Review of Books predicted that a hundred years from now, the book would

take on the documentary value of what, in the twentieth century, made up the stuff of culture. And later yet, when (if man still exists) its cultural terminology is obsolescent, its social patterns extinct, it will, I think, still be read for its triumph over the resistance of language, the reason why poetry lasts.

How could one respond to such praise? The “poetry factory,” as Amy liked to call the gears racketing in her head, was producing so furiously that for all the powerful gratification she felt, nothing could slow her. She had to make up for lost time, she said. She was flustered, incredulous, happy, nervous, sometime unaccountably blue; but she was thinking very clearly.

By the fall of 1983, the same year of The Kingfisher’s debut, she had already composed a working manuscript of her 1985 book, What the Light Was Like, many of whose poems she’d excluded from the first volume as not fitting into its scheme. Her sense of a book as a shaped thing was acute. By 1984, a year before What the Light Was Like appeared, and under the influence of an introductory Classical Greek course at Hunter College that had led to revelatory travels in Greece, she had already begun “The Mirror of the Gorgon” series for her third, myth-saturated book, Archaic Figure, published in 1987. But she held the poems back, suspecting that others on similar subjects—the fear and suppression of strong women was often their theme—would follow. Enclosed in a single letter of 1984 I find nine minor poems that were never collected at all. That same year, she sent me a three-part poem called “A Manhattan Elegy,” which despite a chapbook appearance as “Manhattan,” was kept out of three Knopf collections until her fifth and final one, A Silence Opens, a decade later.

Reading that final volume, you can’t help seeing many of the poems as valedictory not only to life but to language. In “The Cove,” the opening poem of her first book, she had begun with fog and a gale that made people indoors feel all the cozier; in “Syrinx,” the poem that inaugurates A Silence Opens, the first lines bring the sound of foghorns and wind chimes and of wind itself “in a terrible fret, without so much / as a finger to articulate / what ails it.” The book ends with “A Silence,” which features the typographical device of extra spaces between punctuated phrases—a visual hint both at God’s silence and at poetry’s limitations. Yet the path into ineffability wasn’t so direct after all. Amy’s poems had from the beginning consciously addressed the boundaries words cannot cross (see “Easter Morning” or “The August Darks”) while employing language with such dizzying variety and ease and wit that she sometimes fooled us into believing that there are no boundaries. (Look again at those lines in “Syrinx,” with the bullseye pun on “fret.”)

Nobody can read Amy Clampitt without a dictionary. Her vocabulary may well be the widest of any modern American poet, making use as it does of various sub-lexicons (botany is a favorite) and foreign languages (French appears often) and, perhaps most important, the nearly limitless aural corollaries, as it were, to the often arcane words that came naturally to her. In “Gooseberry Fool,” for instance, the taste of the gooseberry takes getting used to, like “trepang, / tripe à la mode de Caen, / or having turned thirteen”—an insistent repetition of consonants and vowels as tangy as the fruit. Omni-sensuality was at the heart of Amy’s linguistic fluency and economy: when she came up with the internal rhyme of “a suede of meadow” you saw and heard and touched it at once.

Yet a deliberate rejection of grammatical economy was often one of her hallmark devices, too, a tendency to clustered and circular phrases rather than linear argument. It was her baroque syntax and vocabulary, her near-meters that weren’t meter, her line breaks that worked against expected grammatical or metric pauses, that brought Amy her most zealous admirers and her most dismissive detractors. Eventually they brought her into the wholly unforeseen role of Exhibit A whenever the direction of American poetry was discussed. One critic who liked where she seemed to be taking it, Willard Spiegelman, put the paradox of Amy’s style most memorably: he said she had “a Keatsian lusciousness” and “a Quaker austerity.”

Another way to characterize her method might be to compare it to the ocean in “Beach Glass,” a collector for whom “nothing / is beneath consideration.” Or to the flatbed truck that transports defunct cars in “Salvage,” where she finds “esthetic / satisfaction in these / ceremonial removals // from the category of received ideas.” Or to the bower birds and magpies and other scavenging creatures that her poems saluted for making beautiful things out of seeming randomness. Accretion and winnowing in an unending loop were what Amy saw at work in life: a principle, too, by which she composed her sentences and her books.

For the killdeer in “Camouflage,” a mosaic of stones set cleverly into gravel is a “treasury”—which is an old-fashioned word for a poetry collection, too. Given her prolific output, the reprinting of only the five volumes of her lifetime in this treasury, The Collected Poems of Amy Clampitt, may well be questioned. But the poetry factory itself provides an answer. Poems are still turning up among Amy’s papers—often, scarcely readable scrawls on the backs of post-card-sized legal announcements she recycled from Hal’s mail—and in typed versions sent to friends; it isn’t at all clear yet which drafts are final. A selection of heretofore unpublished poems will eventually be called for. But first this gathering—one that ratifies Amy Clampitt’s own choices in the order she scrupulously placed them. These poems tell us what she most wanted to say; they are what she wanted her reputation to stand on.



As her poems went public, so did her person. Into her eleven years of life as a famous older poet she packed more activity than most people half her age would have attempted. She continued to rent a summer cottage (and create many of her most radiant poems) in Corea, Maine, a sort of no-home away from no-home; she treasured her Down East friends, the view of ‘Tit Manan lighthouse and the walk to the outer bar, but she took a pointed pleasure in not really belonging to Corea any more than she did to Manhattan or had to Iowa. Hal would drive them up in a car named Ralph. She who loved to arrive in new places, and so often wrote about masses of people on the move, had no wish to learn to drive. After one mishap on Amtrak (I forget what), she also shunned American trains for years, and was so determined not to fly that she regularly got to Europe by boat. Such convictions would make it impossible, you’d think, for her to accept invitations to give poetry readings all over the country; but she leapt upon even the most far-flung and ill-paid offers and made a virtue of eccentricity, writing poems about America as seen from a Greyhound bus.  

Quitting her freelance editing work, she dared with increasing pleasure and confidence to try herself as a visiting professor—at William and Mary, Amherst, Smith, and elsewhere—and her generosity to students made her a sort of favorite aunt. Rewarded by a once-distrusted literary establishment with one honor after another, she used her influence to further the careers of the many younger writers she saw promise in. She edited a selection of Donne. She began writing essays and reviews and published a prose collection, Predecessors, Et Cetera, though she doubted—and underestimated—her talents as a critic. She wrote and rewrote and rewrote a play, Mad with Joy, about Dorothy Wordsworth) in whose nervous energy, frustrated literary talent, and lonely life in the cottage at Grasmere one detects the early Amy Clampitt on the prairie). In one of the great thrills of her life, the play was given a staged reading in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1993.

By then, to my shame, I had become a less reliable correspondent, and so the final, surprising chapter of her life—set in the Berkshire Mountains—had begun without my knowing. A poet Amy had befriended in Italy in 1991, Karen Chase, was from Lenox, Massachusetts, and introduced her to it. One attraction was its literary heritage, as I remember from a visit with her to The Mount, home of one of her most beloved writers, Edith Wharton. One day in the summer of 1992, Amy and Hal had just left Lenox, where they’d been visiting Karen, when the local paper, The Berkshire Eagle, landed on the lawn with the news that Amy had won a MacArthur Fellowship. When Karen phoned her—she had been on her way to Maine—Amy was annoyed; such teasing wasn’t funny. But at length convinced this was no prank, she decided that very day to buy a summer place in Lenox. The small but well-proportioned gray clapboard house with a spacious backyard was her first purchase of any magnitude. She and Karen went on expeditions they called “junking,” and soon the house was full of imaginatively chosen furniture. The “poet of displacement,” as she once termed herself, had a foothold.

Then, while teaching at Smith in the spring of 1993, Amy learned that she had ovarian cancer. I was living in Paris that year and was shocked, on a brief trip back to New York in October, to see how thin and frail her surgery had left her. We were reading at an overlong poetry festival, and her valor was remarkable as she mounted the stage, chic in a new dress and a turban that masked her hair loss from chemotherapy. The following spring, when she learned she would probably not recover, she and Hal moved to Lenox for whatever time she had left. She called me in Paris not to tell me the worst but to say in as bubbly a voice as ever that they were getting married in a few days.

And so, on June 2, 1994, days before her seventy-fourth birthday (which I still pretended not to know about), she married her companion of twenty-five years, Harold Korn, in the living room of their first home. Karen Chase, her husband, and Amy’s housekeeper and friend, Vivian Banton, were the only guests. A photo shows the bride too weak to stand but not to smile—under a wide-brimmed, rakish straw hat that was to hang on the wall facing her bed for the three months that remained.

Her decline, as I saw when I returned to Massachusetts in August, was rapid and dignified. Though basically unable to eat, she refused intravenous feeding. Having asked that her bed be moved into her study, so she could watch the birds at their backyard feeder, she spent hours simply staring out the window. “What I like about this view,” she said in one burst of energy, “is that there’s so much going on.” All I saw, miserably, was a gray squirrel scampering up a birch tree.

Sometimes a visitor would read aloud the poems she asked for. I got through Wordsworth’s “Ode: Intimations of Immortality” all right, but choked on one of his Lucy poems (“But she is in her grave, and, oh, / The difference to me!”), and frustrated Amy sorely by not finding the complete Hopkins on her bookshelf. When she had breath, she dictated her plans for her funeral, to be held in the yard she looked out on. She wanted her ashes to be buried under the birch tree—an unconscious harking back, I like to imagine, to the bed of blue violets under the trees of her first memory, violets deeply tinted by her own undiminished capacity for awe. (In “The Woodlot” she had called them “a blue cellarhole / of pure astonishment.”) As it turned out, it would be her brother Larry, born on the day of that memory, who dug the first spade into the ground. No poems of her own were to be read aloud, though we might listen to the Beethoven sonata that had inspired her elegy for her father. She asked only for a passage from Isaiah, the Twenty-Third Psalm, Hopkins, Wordsworth, Emily Dickinson, and certain favorite poems to be read by the friends who wrote them.

The Quaker in her was still very much alive: if anybody wanted to say something about her, she thought he should just stand up and say it.


Mary Jo Salter