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Clampitt, Amy.

ARCHIVE: Correspondence and manuscripts.


Amy Clampitt Archive
Approx. six cubic feet; ca. 1940s-80s.
Manuscripts and correspondence documenting the life and work of poet Amy Clampitt. Born in Iowa in 1920, Clampitt achieved success as a writer late in life. Her first book, Multitudes, Multitudes, was privately printed in 1973 and her first commercially printed full-length collection, The Kingfisher, in 1983. In the years that followed came What the Light Was Like (1985), Archaic Figure (1987), Westward (1990), and A Silence Opens (1994), along with a book of essays.
Manuscript material is present for Clampitt's first book, as well as for at least one unpublished full-length work (a play), numerous unpublished poems, and unpublished versions of published poems. Personal correspondence includes a trove of wonderfully descriptive, witty outgoing letters from Clampitt - nearly a hundred to her friend Doris Thompson Myers as well as over a dozen to her family, bulking 1950s-60s, written while she was living, working, and writing in Manhattan - and several hundred incoming letters, spanning 1940s-80s, largely from family and many from her sister Beth who struggled with mental illness. A small amount of professional correspondence is present for the years 1979-83 and includes routine communication from editors, publishers, etc., as well as Clampitt's outgoing carbons, often cover letters accompanying manuscript submissions to journals and magazines.
Manuscripts (approx. 1.5 cubic feet; ca. 1970s-80s) 2
Correspondence (approx. 2.5 cubic feet; ca. 1940s-80s) 4
Outgoing correspondence (over 100 items; bulking 1950s-60s) 4
Incoming correspondence (hundreds of items; ca. 1940s-80s) 6
Awards, photographs, and related material (approx. one foot.; ca. 1940s-80s) 8
Manuscripts (approx. 2.5 cubic feet; ca. 1970s-80s)
Note: includes one box of unsorted manuscript material that appears to have sustained some moisture damage.
Includes several files of:
  • Typescripts  - many annotated and representing various stages of Clampitt's creative process  - and autograph notes for poems, essays, an unpublished play, and a novel
  •  Loose typescript poems representing final versions submitted to journals for publication (in some instances there are several versions of the same poem)
  1. Books of poetry
Multitudes, Multitudes (New York: The Press on Washington Street, 1973)
Final typescript with setting instructions and copyeditor's notes throughout
Mock-up of final text with stanzas cut from galleys and pasted to individual pages
Galley proofs - a few versions, lightly copyedited, with one or two corrections by the author; 17 pp. each; with earlier title, Departures
Numerous loose typescript poems yet to be collated
Ways of Dying: Elegies, Epitaphs and Other Memorials [n.d.; unpublished?]
Typescript; approx. 45 pp. in binder; numerous poems
Letter from Mid-America [ca. 1972-74; unpublished?]
Typescript; approx. 36 pp., with table of contents; includes 20 poems; with related correspondence from literary journals
II. Individual poems
Autograph notes and typescripts for the following poems, some annotated; occasionally present in photocopy:
"Written in a Mirror"
"At the Clinic"
"The Quarry"
and many more
From the Kingfisher (1983)
From Westward (1990)
"My Cousin Muriel," annotated typescript pages and autograph notes
"The Field Pansy," typescript photocopy
Autograph notes on index-size cards; approx. 30 (to verso of cards announcing Clampitt's publication party for What the Light Was Like, published in 1985)
Autograph notes; 8 ½ x 13-inch leaves; approx ten pages
III. Longer works
The Three of Us: A Play in Two Acts (ca. late 1980s; Clampitt's play about Wordsworth's sister, who apparently played an important role in his writing)
Folder of several typescript and photocopy drafts, some annotated, with related correspondence and background research on, among other things, playwriting
Typescript photocopy of final version; 65 pp.
[Untitled novel]
Typescript; 260 pp.
IV. Essays
Several files of typescripts include the following:
Typescript; 68 pp.; essays (first is "Paris: Cliches").
"A Dream of Summer"
Typescript; 16 pp.
"Time of Dionysus"
Typescript; pp.139-154.
"Memento Mori"
Typescript carbon; pp. 29-40.  
"Learning to Count"
Typescript; 7 pp.
Correspondence (approx. 2.5 cubic feet; ca. 1940s-80s)
A combination of alphabetical and chronological files; mostly incoming personal correspondence, with some outgoing. A few files include professional correspondence with publishers and editors, as well as financial material (ca. 1970s-80s). Occasionally mixed in are Clampitt's notes, pieces of miscellaneous correspondence and printed matter, or related enclosures. Includes two shoeboxes primarily containing greeting cards.
Outgoing correspondence (over 100 items; bulking 1950s-60s)
  • Ca. 96 typed and autograph letters signed, "Amy" to Doris [Thompson Myers], 1957-1966, a friend in Arkansas to whom she would dedicate her poem, "Rain at Bellagio"; various sizes; totaling over 200 pp. [Note: many of Thompson Myers's letters to Clampitt are present as well; see Incoming Correspondence below.]
  • Ca. 17 typed letters signed, "Amy" to her family, 1949-76 (bulk 1949-52); 4tos.; two to three pages.
  • One autograph letter signed, "Amy" to her family, November 11, 1950; 4to.; three leaves, rectos only.
  • Typed letter, unsigned, to Ben [Sonnenberg], publisher and founder of the literary magazine Grand Street, March 20, 1951; 4to.; two leaves, rectos only.
Clampitt to Doris Thompson Myers
The letters to Doris Thompson Myers document over a decade spent by Clampitt at 354 West 12th Street in Manhattan and trace the daily comings and goings of the aspiring author, recording with wit and humor her observations on urban life and writing and thoughts on personal and professional goals, religion, society, and more.
A keen observer of various social milieux, Clampitt recounts a party with ad men (with whom she shares little in common) and martinis, and looks on somewhat skeptically at a bridal shower she attends, describing the mother of the bride unsparingly as "a hair-raising amalgam of snob, harridan, and potential alcoholic to whom it is quite possible, once one has outlived the initial incredulity of meeting her for the first time, to pay no attention whatsoever." She discusses her writing, promising to send her manuscript when she gets "a few snarled and foggy passages smoothed out and clarified," as well as her reading - she makes her way through Augustine and Dante, mostly on the subway, which she deems "an ideal setting for the perusal of theological works," and is at one point harassed by "a little man" who sees her reading The City of God and bluntly asks, "You a Catholic?" Clampitt also explores at length the meaning of church sermons, questioning her "slovenly and haphazard devotional habits" in tandem with her "uncertainty about jobs and vocation" and "unpretty past history."
Representative excerpts:
Typed letter signed, "Amy" to Doris, February 13, 1958; 2 pp.; responding ostensibly to news of Thompson Myers ending a relationship. In part,
What I mainly hope is that the worst part of the after-effect (not the right word, but for the life of me I can't think of another one) of your decision about Ralph will be over by now. I don't know why it should be - one would suppose, according to the prevalent psychology's notion regarding free will, that it would be exactly the other way around - but in my own experience anyhow I have observed that making a decision oneself is ten times more painful than having same thrust upon one. One simply hurts all over from the effort, I suppose, instead of merely in the flabbier regions of the amour-propre. You will gather that I am thinking solely in terms of engagements and less official entanglements, of which I could [tell] a tale - but I won't except to say that painfulness does seem to bring its own reward. Which must make me sound eighty years old…  
Typed letter signed, "Amy" to Doris, April 16, 1958; 1 p.; discussing a trip to Washington before segueing into a more serious discussion of motherhood and the nature of the intellectual. In part,
But what I really started out to say was something quite else, though allied. I know babies can be tiresome - the more so, the more fascinating the parents find them. All the same, I wouldn't be a bit surprised if this sticky young creature turned out, after all, to be its mother's redemption, rather than the reverse. Intellect might be all right if it didn't entail so many painful pretensions. As it is, though, I think most intellectuals, would-be or committed, secretly suspect all the rest of their brotherhood of harboring housemaids' souls - and if that automatically makes me one of the fraternity, all right, gulp, down it goes, but I wouldn't be surprised, either, if they were right. And so what's the matter of being a housemaid? If one could come clean and be one, instead of just harboring the soul of one, then said soul might at least cease to be damp.
Typed letter signed, "Amy" to Doris, September 2, 1958; 2 pp.; on being a writer. In part,
The idea being, you see, that I would first finish the novel, working at it full time, and then start looking for a job as an editor. Actually, I have enough money in the bank to live on for six months, probably a year. Six months ago I would have said the whole thing was wrong - the basic premise that one ought to do what on is expected to do, and (a little, at least) that writing is actually a form of self-indulgence. But is it? I am not so sure now but the ethics of such an argument go any deeper than the economics: don't take financial risks of that sort, or you'll end up poor, and disgrace your relatives. And how do you know anybody will publish your novel? And how do you know if they do that it won't get either no reviews at all, or that scathing sort of brief mention that hurts worse than none, and makes all your friends wish they didn't know you?  
Incoming correspondence (hundreds of items; ca. 1940s-80s)
Clampitt's correspondence includes countless lengthy letters from family - from her parents ("Mother" and "Daddy"); her younger sister, Beth; her brothers, Lawrence, Richard, and Philip, the youngest, as well as their wives; cousin Sandy; Aunt Anne; etc.
Additionally there are letters from Barbara Clark, a friend from Grinnell; Robert Quint, the college friend of Clampitt's favorite nephew, David; Barbara. J. Blay in England; Sister Mary John, also in England; Bertha Burgess; Willie Ervin; Henry Brickle; Beryl Denham in London; Raymond & Vivien Yepp; Brad Lyttle; Alice Mary Hadfield; Peter Farb; Archie Ammons; Euince Noack; Doris [Thompson Myers; see also above, Outgoing Correspondence]; Cecile [Starr Boyajian] at the Saturday Review; Phoebe Hoss, one of Clampitt's oldest New York friends and a colleague from her days at the Oxford University Press; and David [Yezzi?]; etc. Correspondents identified by first name only include a Carolyn and a Rosemary.
Incoming correspondence breaks down as follows:
Approx. 1 cubic foot in three document boxes each filed A-Z; several hundred items; includes many letters from her sister Beth and father, who write from Iowa, as well as her brother Richard ("Dickie"). Letters from friends discuss Clampitt's writing, finding employment, gender roles, and other topics.  
Beth Clampitt's letters begin in the early 1940s while she is still in high school; in addition to recording the activities of the family she debates whether she will attend college the following year, writing, "I don't know whether to go to college next year or not. I have very little idea where I want to go. […] Daddy seems to think I ought to go to Earlham, but I'm not sure. Maybe I'd better stay out a year and work and learn something and grow up a little more and then decide just where I want to go" (December 20, 1944). Later letters come from Earlham and from her letter of February 28, 1948, Beth had begun to find her way there, realizing that rather than being literary, she far more enjoyed being outdoors - "It's good to get outside where you don't care how dreadful you look, where you don't have to feel conventional and sophisticated and grown up. And it's good to get really tired and hungry. […] It's such fun to do things that take some physical skill!" At the close of the lengthy missive she writes, "So you see - I've begun to do the things I've really been wanting to do all along. I don't know yet what kind of person I'm becoming, but at least I'm being myself now. And I'm sure glad I've a got a sister to write to about it."
By 1950, Beth begins to have what she describes as "mental difficulties" (October 5, [late 40s?]) and her care is often the topic of conversation amongst the family. Clampitt's father writes regarding "a long letter from Beth's roommate, Janet Stone," and how it "certainly gives a pretty good idea of Beth's condition. […] I've been reading a book which Richard got for us from the library at Ames last Sunday, Fry's Mental Health in College, based on a study of Yale students." (He continues to say that Richard will be changing his major from physics to psychology, commenting, "I don't know how much Beth's condition has had to do with this"; Dickie's later letters appear to show an ongoing interest in psychology over physics.) Beth's letters describe her environment at various hospitals and how she spends her time - she observes in one letter that "generally it's too much like college life" (undated; ca. 1950-51); she asks her sister what she thinks about the war, shares plans to knit, yearns for books, and expresses an interest in politics, mentioning the League of Woman Voters as well as various congresswomen to whom she hopes to write. Clampitt's father describes Beth's letters as showing "evidence of a confused mind" (December 29, 1951). As late as June 5, 1954, Clampitt's father writes after a visit to Beth, "I don't know whether it did Beth any good to get away from the hospital or not. […] I'm beginning to resign myself to the possibility that she may spend the rest of her life in the hospital but I want to do all I can to brighten her stay there while I remain alive."
Letters from Clampitt's father chart the family's activity, relaying his plans as well as those of his sons and their wives. He also refers to loans from his daughter; his letter of May 17, 1950, thanks her "ever so much for the five hundred dollars which you sent us" - money which appears to have been needed to pay Beth's hospital bills, which totaled at that time $1,084.99.
Clampitt's friend Barbara writes about employment - on October 14, 1951, she writes that she has been "very busy since you went trying to change my job," and describes in more than one letter her work applying to positions and answering advertisements. She also asks, "Have you found that wonderful new job yet?" (December 17, 1951).
Throughout the correspondence are references to Clampitt's writing: her father inquires on September 10, 1954, "I've been wondering what you and your typewriter have been accomplishing. You haven't spent time in writing to us, so I hope you've been doing something more worthwhile, and for a larger audience." Barbara Clark and others refer to Clampitt's "travel book" (her record of her time abroad) and marvel at her account of everything she describes - in 1949, for example, Clark writes, "It's probably a professional secret how you managed to take such abundant notes on everything that occurred, while in the process of actively observing, smelling, hearing, and otherwise participating yourself. […] I do wish to tell you all the interesting ideas your manuscript stimulated in my none-too-active mind. […] I'm just ever so grateful to you for including me in the circle of subscribers." On a different train of thought she responds to Clampitt's thoughts on men, women, and their respective roles, writing, "But aren't you just a bit unduly harsh on the contemporary American male? Of course my first-hand experience with Englishmen is sadly limited." She continues later, "This business of 'finding yourself' - of being a person first and a woman second… I don't know how. […] Even while consciously rebelling against the thought, I think I've believed all along that the most satisfactory career for a woman is that of being a parent."  In a later letter from December 1952, Barbara writes, "[N]ot being well informed in publishing circles, I don't know what a ripple your flexible short stories are making. You sounded wonderfully, idiotically happy that it would be gratifying to know that you somehow have managed to keep up that manner of living, even at the expense of taking periodic jobs."
There are also letters from colleagues at Oxford University Press, following Clampitt's departure in 1951, as well as from friends at other presses or journals. Bill at Michigan State writes frequently, and on July 6, 1951 comments, "Have you been doing any writing? Or a diary of any sort? If you've a diary, I'm already sorry for the scholar who in year to come will have to read it to learn about you. It will be worse than Pepys's shorthand." A few days later: "Last night I read N. West's Day of the Locust and Miss Lonelyhearts, both of which have some Partisan Review touch, but the first of which is an excellent job. Do you know West's work? At your best you are better than his best."
Approx. a dozen files of incoming and outgoing personal and professional correspondence: personal (approx. five files labeled chronologically, 1979-83; see below) includes a handful of outgoing carbons together with incoming correspondence, the content of which is consistent with the earlier personal correspondence described at length above; professional (approx. six files; see below) includes Clampitt's outgoing carbons - often cover letters accompanying manuscript submissions to journals and magazines - as well as incoming from editors, publishers, etc.
Filed as follows:
Professional Correspondence
Filed as follows:
1979 Literary Correspondence
1979-82 Dutton
1980 Literary correspondence (red binder)
1981 Literary Correspondence
Cornell University Press
Two files, as follows:
Bank (ca. 1980s)
FBI / CIA (ca. 1975): correspondence regarding names of persons who withheld income as a protest against Vietnam given from the Internal Revenue Service to the Federal Bureau of Investigation
Awards, photographs, and related material (approx. one foot.; ca. 1940s-80s)
Grinnell College diploma
Award from the Academy of American Poets
Portfolio of portraits of Clampitt, stamped to verso by Trude Fleischmann
Old family photographs
Address book with many entries by Clampitt; correspondence and printed matter loosely inserted
Commercial correspondence and related printed matter
Folder of loose typescript "chronologies" listing by year various world historical and political events
Blank Washington Street Press letterhead
(#4655737 and #4657871)

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