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Shapiro, David. "A Salon of 1990: Maximalist Manifesto." American Poetry Review (January/February 1991): 37-47.

Peter Baker

MCCLATCHY, J. D. (1945- ) J. D. McClatchy has successfully been a writer, editor, critic, teacher, and political representative. Not only has McClatchy been viewed as an important writer since his first book of poems in 1981, but he has also been influential as the editor of the Yale Review. He has edited poetry anthologies and published two collections of critical essays. He has taught at Yale, Princeton, the University of California, Los Angeles, and Columbia, and has been chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. McClatchys poems, like those of many of his postmodern colleagues, are lyrical versions of narrative poetry (poems that tell a story or capture a moment through some form of per sonal expression) and largely free verse. They are remarkable for their elevated language and subject matter, the latter often containing elements of confessional and metaphysical poetry. The contemplative tone of his work shows the influence of Yvor winters and the early work of James merrill and Robert pinsky.

McClatchy was born in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. He is the author of four books of poetry: Scenes from Another Life (1981), Stars Principal (1986), The Rest of the Way (1990), and Ten Commandments (1998). Aside from his poems and essays (White Paper [1989] and Twenty Questions [1998]), he has also written four opera libretti, including Emmeline (1996), commissioned by the Santa Fe Opera. He is the recipient of many honors, including the Witter Bynner Award for poetry from the American Academy of Arts and Letters (1985).

McClatchy's work often displays a compacted language and verbal virtuosity that he describes as the "knotty lyric" (qtd. in Bloom 330). The poem "Sniper" (2002), for example, begins with a sentence that combines rich sound qualities with a vernacular verisimilitude: "The geedee cannon cockers with their illumes / And boom-boom arty always miss the point." Here "boom-boom arty" refers to exploding artillery; the authentic sound of this phrasing lends a sense of immediacy to the poem. Although his poems are typically free verse, he does occasionally experiment with a more formal structure. He uses varying rhyme schemes and forms, including the pantoum, a Malayan poem similar to the French villanelle.

McClatchy's latest book of poems, The Ten Commandments, is organized according to God's moral instructional manual, delivered via Moses. Within this frame, McClatchy waxes upon all manner of rule and custom in the personal, social, and philosophical realms and "encompass[es] the range of human pleasures and failings" (Christian). The poem "My Mammo-gram," for example, is composed of five sections, each sporting four stanzas: two rhyming quatrains and two rhyming tercets. The theme of the poem is very personal and does not cringe from intimate details, such as "useless, overlooked / mass of fat" (17). But, perhaps more important, in the final section, the speaker seems to bow his head in resignation and accept that life is a sometimes "farcical" slippery slope and that a person's various body shapes and stages are only "disguises" for the soul's last laugh.

Like his metaphysical predecessors and contemporaries, McClatchy often seeks the kernel of truth or wisdom embedded in an emotionally imbued situation. McClatchy's work, both his concentrated free verse and formal poems, seems to suggest that not only life's spectrum of glories and disappointments, but also the quiet moments between them, are worthy of examination.

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