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McClatchy, J.D. (b. 1945 )  
 
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Early Career

McClatchy more fully realized his new focus in life in 1975 when he began living with fellow gay poet Alfred Corn, who he claims helped him clarify his sense of "vocation" as a poet. The romantic relationship of the two poets lasted thirteen years, during which time McClatchy showed Corn everything he wrote.

During this period McClatchy published his first two books, Scenes from Another Life (1981) and Stars Principal (1986). Critics praised these volumes for their intelligence and technical and stylistic prowess. Of his early work, however, McClatchy later remarked that he had not yet found his voice, explaining "I never thought of taking the Proustian look backwards toward childhood's sweaty sheets and adolescence's nightsoil. I was trying instead for . . . for what? a weary sophistication? a haughty symbolist perch? the revolving disco ball of Stevensian abstraction?"

Sponsor Message.

The Rest of the Way signaled a shift in his work. He began writing more openly about the details of his life, including failed romance and erotic temptation. While he has continued to write technically precise poems, McClatchy in this third book also began venturing off into more open lyrics.

In one such lyric, "Fog Tropes," McClatchy writes about a friend, the critic David Kalstone, dying of AIDS:

And here you are
Still, propped up in the half-light, my shadow,
My likeness, your hand wandering to the arm
Of the chair, as if your fingers might trace
The chalkdust of whole years erased.

Recent Work

Ten Commandments, McClatchy's fourth book, is made up of ten sections and is centered on the Bible's Decalogue. Critic William Logan remarked of Ten Commandments: "The book is torn between private confession and public accusation." While utilizing autobiographical details of McClatchy's life, the volume also contains imitations of Ovid and Horace and poems on Shakespeare's Iago and Roman Emperor Nero, among others.

Logan also discusses McClatchy's "frank homosexuality . . .[which] is not the point of the poems, it's their medium." McClatchy, in a Lambda Book Report interview, agrees with Logan's assessment, stating, "My sexuality itself is rarely the subject of my poems. Its consequences are." McClatchy adds, "The nature and formation of desires, the pleasures and anxieties of being gay--sure, these figure in my work. But I'm less interested in homosexuality as a subject than as a sensibility. Nowhere visible, but everywhere apparent."

Perhaps this use of homosexuality as the medium in which to express poetic feeling can be seen in lines like these from "The Dialogue of Desire and Guilt" in which the poet declares: "Everything's called / By a secret name.../... / Let me put my hand just inside the wound, / So warm and familiar. / The flesh is home."

Hazmat, McClatchy's fifth book, is perhaps his most dark and brooding volume. In the poem "Fado," for example, he offers a lover his contaminated heart:

Would you then stretch your hand
To take my scalding gift?
And would you kiss the blackened
         Hypocrite?

It's yours, it's yours--this gift,
This grievance embedded in each,
Where time will never matter
         And words can't reach.

Hazmat also contains brazenly forthright poems such as "Penis" and "Feces." The former contains this catalogue: "Hooded, lumpish, ropy, upcurving, / Anchovy or shark, the three-inch alley cat / Or blood-choked panther." "Feces" recalls the speaker's memory as a child of hiding his own excrement in an attic closet.

Concerns about Conflict in the Middle East

McClatchy's poem "Jihad" (Hazmat) speaks about "the nothing both sides fight over / In God's name, a last idolatry / Of boundaries." It is one of several poems that explore the Middle East and its conflicts, a subject that McClatchy has returned to over the years.

These poems include "Above Beirut" (Stars Principal), which addresses the violence in the area, and "Heads" and "Kilim" (both from The Rest of the Way). "Kilim" is a highly intricate and accomplished sonnet sequence, exploring the poet's view of the futility of the region's violence: "No art can stop the killings, / Nor any point of view make an abstraction / Of the child murdered because a boundary was crossed."

The poem "Heads" examines the horrifying conditions McClatchy found when he visited the West Bank in 1987.

Traditional Forms

McClatchy's work in traditional forms has earned him a reputation as an accomplished technician. His sonnet sequences are some of his strongest work and can be found throughout his books, from "Kilim" (The Rest of the Way) to "My Mammogram" (Ten Commandments) and "Cancer" (Hazmat).

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