J. D. McClatchy

Poet, critic, editor, and librettist J.D. McClatchy was born and raised in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. He earned his BA at Georgetown University and his PhD in English at Yale University. His poetry is marked by formal adeptness, lyrical control and a wide range of influences—including classical literature, music, and opera. Praised for his poetry's polished, erudite surfaces as well as the depths of thought, philosophy, and feeling beneath the facade, McClatchy treats subjects as diverse as Japanese history, the body, and his own autobiography. Often depicting the unsettling and disturbing realities that exist below the surfaces of our lives, McClatchy’s poems are sensitive and intelligent explorations of the moral and aesthetic scope of human experience. His collections of poetry include Star Principal (1986), The Rest of the Way (1990), and The Ten Commandments (1998). In a review of McClatchy’s Pulitzer Prize-nominated Hazmat (2002), Adam Kirsch noted the “intricate stanza forms, historical anecdotes and exotic settings” of the poems, writing that McClatchy’s “best poems escape anemia through regular infusions of the body’s ‘spurting, desperate’ blood.” McClatchy’s next collection, Mercury Dressing (2009) won the Ambassador Book Award, a prize recognizing literature that adds significantly to an understanding of American life and culture. Speaking to Contemporary Authors about his own work, McClatchy noted, “I continue to write two sorts of poem—one that will at first seem intensely lyrical, private, even hermetic; and the other, by contrast, more 'open,' discursive or autobiographical. To my mind, the poems arise from the same impulse played at different pitches. What has changed in my work, though, is its increasingly political emphasis. I am not interested in 'issues,' but in the nature, responsibilities, and methods of power. Contemporary politics and ideologies are metaphors for this—as classical mythology has always been. The poet's business, after all, is not merely to describe the world, but to create urgent new myths from it, and for it.”

In addition to writing poetry, J.D. McClatchy was a prolific editor, leading critic, notable librettist, and celebrated teacher. He wrote opera libretti for Francis Thorne’s Mario and the Magician, Bruce Saylor’s Orpheus Descending, Tobias Picker’s Emmeline, and William Schuman’s A Question of Taste. A prolific and esteemed editor, a selection of McClatchy’s titles includes The Vintage Book of Contemporary American Poetry (1990 and 2003), Poets of the Civil War (2005), Poems of the Sea (2001), James Merrill’s Collected Prose (2004) and Collected Poems (2001), and Bright Pages: Yale Writers 1701–2001 (2001). McClatchy’s first collection of essays, White Paper (1989), won the Melville Cane award from the Poetry Society of America. His second, Twenty Questions: (Posed by Poems) (1998) was released the same year as his acclaimed volume of poetry, Ten Commandments. The autobiographical elements in Ten Commandments are elaborated on in Twenty Questions, and the poetic philosophy that McClatchy expresses in the essays is reflected in the style of his poems. Writing in the New Leader, Phoebe Pettingell felt that "vivid observations can be found throughout both the poems and the essays," and Poetry contributor Christian Wiman commended the "autobiographical elegance" of McClatchy's prose.

McClatchy received numerous commendations for his work, including the Award in Literature from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters in 1991 for his collection The Rest of the Way. He also received fellowships from the Guggenheim and the National Endowment for the Arts, a Connecticut Governor’s Award, and a Literary Lion commendation from the New York Public Library.  He served as Chancellor to the Academy of American Poets from 1996 to 2003. McClatchy taught at Princeton University, Columbia University, Johns Hopkins University, and for several decades at Yale University, where he edited the Yale Review.




  • Scenes from Another Life (poems), Braziller (New York, NY), 1981. Stars Principal (poems), Macmillan (New York, NY), 1986.
  • Kilim (poems), Sea Cliff Press, 1987.
  • The Rest of the Way (poems), Knopf (New York, NY), 1990.
  • Ten Commandments (poems), Knopf (New York, NY), 1998.
  • (Translator) Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, The Magic Flute, Abbeville Press (New York, NY), 2000.
  • (Translator) Georges Bizet, Carmen, Abbeville Press (New York, NY), 2001.
  • Hazmat (poems), Knopf (New York, NY), 2002.
  • Division of Spoils: Selected Poems, Arc Publications (Lancashire, England), 2003.
  • Mercury Dressing, Knopf (New York, NY), 2009.
  • (Translator) Seven Mozart Librettos: A Verse Translation, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 2010.




  • White Paper: On Contemporary American Poetry, Columbia University Press (New York, NY), 1989.
  • Twenty Questions: (Posed by Poems), Columbia University Press (New York, NY), 1998.
  • American Writers at Home, photographs by Erica Lennard, Library of America (New York, NY), 2004.




  • W. H. Auden, Random House Audio (New York, NY), 1999.
  • Sylvia Plath, Random House Audio (New York, NY), 1999.
  • James Merrill, Random House Audio (New York, NY), 1999.
  • Elizabeth Bishop, Random House Audio (New York, NY), 2000.
  • Robert Lowell, Random House Audio (New York, NY), 2000.
  • Anne Sexton, Random House Audio (New York, NY), 2000.
  • Randall Jarrell, Random House Audio (New York, NY), 2001.
  • John Ashbery, Random House Audio (New York, NY), 2001.
  • Five American Women, Random House Audio (New York, NY), 2001.




  • Anne Sexton: The Artist and Her Critics, Indiana University Press (Bloomington, IN), 1978.
  • (And author of introduction) James Merrill, Recitative: Prose, North Point Press (Berkeley, CA), 1986.
  • Poets on Painters: Essays on the Art of Painting by Twentieth-Century Poets, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 1988.
  • (And author of introduction) The Vintage Book of Contemporary American Poetry, Vintage Books (New York, NY), 1990.
  • Woman in White: Selected Poems of Emily Dickinson, Folio Society (London, England), 1991.
  • (With George Robert Minkoff)Robert Creeley, The Poetry of Song: Five Tributes to Stephen Sondheim, Poetry Society of America (New York, NY), 1992.
  • The Vintage Book of Contemporary World Poetry,Vintage Books (New York, NY), 1996.
  • (With John Hollander) Christmas Poems, Knopf (New York, NY), 1999.
  • On Wings of Song: Poems about Birds, Knopf (New York, NY), 2000.
  • Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Poems and Other Writings, Library of America, 2000.
  • (With Stephen Yenser) The Collected Poems of James Merrill, Knopf (New York, NY), 2001.
  • Bright Pages: Yale Writers 1701-2001, Yale University Press (New Haven, CT), 2001.
  • Love Speaks Its Name, Knopf (New York, NY), 2001.
  • Poems of the Sea, Knopf (New York, NY), 2001.
  • Eavan Boland Horace, the Odes, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 2002.
  • (With Stephen Yenser) Collected Novels and Plays of James Merrill, A.A. Knopf (New York, NY), 2002.
  • Edna St. Vincent Millay, Selected Poems, Library of America (New York, NY), 2003.

Work represented in anthologies, including The Poetry Anthology, 1912-1977, Houghton, 1978; Anthology of Magazine Verse and Yearbook of American Poetry, Monitor, 1980; and Fifty Years of American Poetry, Abrams, 1984. Contributor of articles, poems, translations, and reviews to periodicals, including New Yorker, Poetry, New Republic, New York Times Book Review, Nation, Grand Street, Paris Review, and Hudson Review. Also author of opera libretti, including A Question of Taste (music by William Schuman), first performed in 1989, Mario and the Magician (music by Francis Thorne), Orpheus Descending (music by Bruce Saylor), and Emmeline (music by Tobias Picker). Associate editor, Four Quarters, 1968-72; poetry editor, Yale Review, 1980-91; contributing editor, American Poetry Review.


Further Readings


  • Boston Review, August, 1986, p. 26.
  • Chicago Tribune, September 22, 1988.
  • Library Journal, April 1, 1998, Tim Gavin, review of Ten Commandments, p. 92; May 1, 1998, Denise S. Sticha, review of Twenty Questions: (Posed by Poems), p. 98.
  • Nation, December 27, 1986, p. 742; November 27, 1989, p. 632.
  • New Leader, April 6, 1998, Phoebe Pettingell, reviews of Ten Commandments and Twenty Questions: (Posed by Poems), p. 14.
  • New York Review of Books, July 16, 1998, John Bayley, review ofTen Commandments, p. 41.
  • New York Times Book Review, September 13, 1981; July 13, 1986, p. 35; February 15, 1987, p. 21; July 9, 1989, p. 33; September 23, 1990, p. 60.
  • Poetry, December, 1982; December, 1986; August, 1990; June, 1992; August, 1999, Christian Wiman, review of Twenty Questions: (Posed by Poems), p. 286; December, 1999, Bruce F. Murphy, review of Ten Commandments.
  • Poetry Review (London, England), June, 1986.
  • Publishers Weekly, February 23, 1998, review of Twenty Questions: (Posed by Poems), p. 62, review of Ten Commandments, p. 69.
  • Time, March 30, 1998, Walter Kirn, review of Ten Commandments, p. 68.
  • Times Literary Supplement, January 9, 1987, p. 41; May 22, 1987, p. 557; June 23, 1989, p. 697; September 15, 1989, p. 1001.
  • Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), December 23, 1990, p. 4.
  • Washington Post Book World, December 14, 1986, p. 4; February 1, 1987, p. 6; December 30, 1990, p. 8; March 3, 1991, p. 6.