Two or three days ago, I raved to a friend about two poets I admire greatly, Richard Wilbur and J.D. McClatchy. It was easy picking a few excellent canonical poems by Wilbur as samples of his work. But McClatchy? He doesn’t appear to receive the attention and praise that his work deserves. I happen to believe that McClatchy is one of the last great poet-critics that we have. His essays on poets and poetry are always insightful and on point. I specifically recommend his 1998 collection Twenty Questions. He’s done impressive work as an editor (among many other things, he edited the Library of America selection of Longfellow’s work). And he’s a poet in the tradition of the great ones like James Merrill to whom his voice seems especially indebted. Below, a poem from Hazmat, a sometimes uneven but really excellent collection of poems published 2004. I took the poem from the excerpts offered by Random House. I strongly recommend this book, and its predecessor Ten Commandments (1999). McClatchy, like Merrill, writes brilliantly on love and loss, on desire and the allure of beauty. Well, as I said, I admire McClatchy greatly. What about you?
J.D. McClatchy: Pibroch
But now that I am used to pain,
Its knuckles in my mouth the same
Today as yesterday, the cause
As clear-obscure as who’s to blame,
A fascination with the flaws
Sets in-the plundered heart, the pause
Between those earnest, oversold
Liberties that took like laws.
What should have been I never told,
Afraid of outbursts you’d withhold.
Why are desires something to share?
I’m shivering, though it isn’t cold.
Beneath your window, I stand and stare.
The planets turn. The trees are bare.
I’ll toss a pebble at the pane,
But softly, knowing you are not there.