A period of cultural transition is bound to produce artistic hybrids. For many artists and writers today, there is a special appeal in the kind of style that combines a renewed respect for tradition with a loyalty to the radical ideas of the last twenty years. Thus we find novelists using traditional forms of storytelling to celebrate the most marginal forms of human behavior, or painters “rediscovering” the figure for politically tendentious or absurdist purposes. There is even now a celebrated Broadway musical reaffirming the ideals of familial trust and loyalty—for a family, incidentally, headed by parents of the same sex.

Not all these efforts fail as art, of course, but there is a special difficulty for the artist who would attempt to “bridge the gap” and reconcile such contradictory impulses. The poetry of Amy Clampitt—whose first book of poems, The...


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