by Amy Clampitt

Page 5

I'm sure any woman poet is bound to have been influenced by Emily Dickinson. I'm going to read a poem or two that perhaps reflects that influence, but I'm going to read first of my own work, a poem which clearly does not. It was written, I recall, at a time when I was carrying around the work of Alan Ginsberg? Now Alan Ginsberg is clearly in the line of Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson did say about Whitman--she didn't know much about him but she knew she had heard he was a great scoundrel. This poem was one that was probably waiting to be written in what we people who live in New York provincially call the Village. And I passed a garden; it's still there. (One can't ever be sure those gardens are going to be there, but I saw it the other day.) A garden where there used to be the women's house of detention, and this was in December, and there were things in bloom. That set me on a train of thought, and I wrote in long lines which seemed to have been a reflection of Alan Ginsberg's manner. The poem is called "Time."

It may be we are in the last days.
Seven hundred years ago to the week,
on the eleventh of December, the kingdom of Wales went
Today, the sixth day of the twelfth month of the nineteen
    hundred eighty-second year, according to the current
there are roses the size of an obsolete threepenny bit--
one fingernail-pink, the other minute, extravagant crimson--
flanked by masses of sweet alyssum
and one time-exempt purple pansy
on the site of what was formerly the Women's House of
at the triangular intersection of Tenth Street with Greenwich
    and Sixth Avenues,
just back of the old Jefferson Market courthouse
whose tower clock, revived, goes on keeping time.
And I think again of October violets,
of their hardy refusal to adhere to conventional expectation--
so hardy that I've finally ceased to think of it as startling,
this phenomenon which, in fact, I devoted myself in October to
    looking for--
a tame revenant of the blue fire-alarm of the original encounter
    with the evidence,
among the dropped leaves and superannuated grass of the
    season of hickory nuts,
that neither time nor place could be counted on to remain
that you might find yourself slipping back toward the past at
    any moment,
or watch it well up in artesian springs of anachronism,
with the prospect of being drowned in that aperture's abrupt
in that twinkling of an eye, at any moment.
It was November, or near then, I found violets massed at the
    foot of the foundations of the castle of Chepstow,
at the edge of Wales--not any longer, as once, covert,
    fecklessly undermining
that sense of fitness, so fragile that at any moment of one's
     childhood whatever sense of continuity has not ebbed or been marked
    for demolition
may break like an eggshell, and be overrun from within by the
    albumen of ruin--
their out-of-season purple not any longer hinting at something,
    but announcing it with a flourish:
the entire gorgeous, intractable realm of the forgotten,
the hieratic, the heraldic, the royal, sprung open
at the gouty foot of that anachronism
on the fringes of a kingdom that went under
at or near the downward slope of the thirteenth century. I have
the artesian spring of the past foam up at the foot of the castle
    of Chepstow
on a day in November, or thereabouts. I have seen a rose the
    size of a perfectly manicured crimson fingernail
alive in a winter that does not arrive, though we plunge again
    toward the solstice.

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