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.
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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.
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