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Ten Commandments Paperback – December 21, 1999


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Technically and emotionally sophisticated, McClatchy's previous three collections (The Rest of the Way, etc.) drew readers in with their conversational brio, and rewarded them with a wisdom that was sad and compromising, sinned against and sinning. The same is true of his brilliant new collection?not least the sinning. For this series of 30 poems (grouped in oblique, three-poem responses to the Decalogue) is largely a catalogue of sins, like the pride of the possessive lover in "Betrayal" who comes to believe in his own "sensible advice and reasonable demands/ as the burning bush might have mistaken its flowers/ for flames or the rustling in its spindly branches/ for the indrawn, unreliable voice of God." Reminiscent in its brainy, bitter directness of Anthony Hecht's The Hard Hours, this poem announces a new register for McClatchy. Indeed, several of these poems move beyond earlier work, including the wryly confessional sonnet sequence "My Mammogram," the verse-anecdotes of Proust and Cavafy in rueful middle age and the already-much-anthologized "Late Night Ode," a Horatian lament in which another aging, disillusioned lover asks, "So why these stubborn tears? And why do I dream/ Almost every night of holding you again,/ Or at least of diving after you, my long-gone,/ Through the bruised unbalanced waves?" The intimacy of these poems, taken together with their classical control and ironical self-knowledge, confirms McClatchy as one his generation's brightest stars. (Mar.) FYI: McClatchy is editor of the Yale Review. Ten Commandments is appearing simultaneously with his essay collection Twenty Questions, from Columbia (see p. 62), and an Albany recording of his opera Emmeline, composed by Tobias Picker.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Kirkus Reviews

37540137.798 McClatchy, J.D. TEN COMMANDMENTS In his most personal volume to date, critic and editor McClatchy exploits his literary friendships in poems that are more relaxed and autobiographical than his previously arch and allusive books. Finding organization in the Decalogue, McClatchy both adheres to and transgresses the rules, often because of the homoeroticism that finds him worshiping idols (handsome older boys), lingering over vanities (bathroom graffiti), or contemplating adulteriesthe flesh is home, after all, in The Dialogue of Desire and Guilt. Theft smartly includes translation (of Ovid), and breaking the Sabbath means a July 4th parade. Murder takes him outside himself in fine poems about a Vietnam sniper; the news casual violence; and Eichmann in Argentina. McClatchys careful rhymes and meters are at their best in his epigrammatic lyrics heading each section, which avoid the self-aggrandizement of so many poems here, most embarrassingly as the overeager student in In Class. McClatchy doesnt seem to realize that flaunting his relations with his elders in verse seems pretentiousthat owning Audens OED and dreaming frequently about Elizabeth Bishop (Three Dreams About Elizabeth Bishop) makes him seem more literary fanboy than mature poet. -- Copyright ©1998, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 120 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf (December 21, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375701346
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375701344
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 0.4 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,819,160 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 17, 1998
Format: Hardcover
this is a book of poetry that should get people reading poetry again. not only is it miles above any book of poetry published in recent memory, i am sure i will not read anything that will surpass it in the near future. ten commandments is a book that will burn your fingers as you turn the pages. the year's best book of poetry is an understatement.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 16, 1998
Format: Hardcover
Fine, fine poems. Definitely NOT cheap, vulgar, mean-spirited or disgusting, as another reader found them. And not a tract on the ten commandments in any hyper-religious sense (not a theological book, obviously).
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Peter Menkin on May 13, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
First, I want to mention how I stumbled on this book. With luck I did stumble on it, too. I was searching for poetry about The Ten Commandments. This is a book that is like a series of confessions and conceits, a book about living life and the failings that we even good people have when it comes to the yardstick of The Ten Commandments.

A lively hardback, to my surprise the book arrived with a charming art-like dustcover, in hardbook, on good paper and well layed out all for a song. Remember, I'd not heard a word of this book of poetry before finding it. Now I am a fan of J.D. McClatchy, for anyone who can capture and poetically state a tenor of lives caught in living, and wrought with a poet's sense is someone well worth the time to consider. I suppose I am raising my very modest voice to a host of others, but mostly I am saying this is probably an overlooked book because it says "Ten Commandments."

Take Adultery:
"Out beyond your head, slumped now over your breasts, the
horizon's
Hit on the day's first mirage--lolling palms, a milky water
hole,..."

No other God:
"Week after week I've had to wwatch
the old needle tracks and the new habits--
aerobics, twelve-step meetings, the soup kitchen--
so where you used to speak in tongues,
now it's a day-glo bumper stickers,
meaning given way to motto."...

So what if you're religious and looking for something theological? Maybe this isn't on the ordinary or extra-ordinary reading list? Maybe it should be. I think so. It's also a kind of entertaining book. One should not say "kind of" but here it fits because like good poetry this entertains, but it also brings the world a little larger and through its use of words and ideas widens the spectrum for this reader.
Read more ›
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2 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 29, 2001
Format: Paperback
Oh boy. I'd stick with the original ten in the Bible. True, there have been recidivists in opposite direction, but no defense of the tenth commandment will prevail against the lack of inhibition of our elected leaders. There is a moral void at the center, and no poems can overcome kitsch and Krugerrands, not to mention a sensibility too timid to encounter the self in a mirror with anything but an ultra-refinement of conceited verse that won't work in a rough and tumble age...
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