Poetry News

Remembering J.D. McClatchy

By Harriet Staff
J. D. McClatchy

This week we lost the poet J.D. McClatchy, who died at the age of 72 in Manhattan. A number of obituaries have been circulating. At the New Yorker, Alexandra Schwartz recalls his demeanor as a poetry professor fondly, "he could be gruff and imposing, but he was thrilling, too, passionate, funny, and challenging, committed to initiating his students into the rigors that poetry demanded." At the Washington Post, Harrison Smith writes, "Mr. McClatchy crafted thematically complex, technically dexterous poems on self-deceit, gay identity, Japanese history, latrinalia, romantic yearning and his literary forebears, including the Americans Elizabeth Bishop and James Merrill and the ancient poets Ovid and Horace." Margalit Fox of the New York Times penned this obituary, remembering him as "an American poet known for work whose cool formal sheen belied the roiling emotion below its surface [...] The author of eight volumes of poetry, Mr. McClatchy was considered one of the country’s foremost men of letters." We'll pick up with her New York Times obituary starting there: 

He was also a prolific editor, anthologist, translator and critic, as well as the author of a string of acclaimed opera librettos, among them “Our Town,” for Ned Rorem’s setting of Thornton Wilder’s enduring drama of village life, and the Metropolitan Opera’s condensed English-language production of Mozart’s “Magic Flute,” designed by Julie Taymor.

Mr. McClatchy’s poems and essays appeared frequently in The New Yorker, The New York Times Book Review, The Paris Review and elsewhere.

From his first book of poetry, “Scenes From Another Life” (1981), to his last, “Plundered Hearts” (2014), Mr. McClatchy’s work was esteemed for its elegance, erudition and impeccable technique. His subject was most often the body: as a vehicle for the expression of desire — erotic love between men was an echoing theme — as the repository for a wellspring of emotion and, increasingly, as a locus of decay.

In “His Own Life,” from “Plundered Hearts,” for instance, Mr. McClatchy wrote: “How in turn will I deal with the pain / Not of separation from but of attachment / To a body which has become a petulant / Tyrant?”

Critics sometimes took Mr. McClatchy to task for what they saw as an overreliance on surface polish and the conspicuous display of his vast learning. (His poems could invoke everyone from the writers of classical antiquity to Albert Camus to the filmmaker Jean Renoir.)

Continue reading at the New York Times

Originally Published: April 13th, 2018