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About this poet

J. D. McClatchy was born in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, on August 12, 1945. He was educated at Georgetown University and Yale University, from which he received his PhD in 1974.

He is the author of eight books of poetry: Plundered Hearts: New and Selected Poems (Alfred A. Knopf, 2014); Mercury Dressing (2009); Hazmat (Alfred A. Knopf, 2002) which was nominated for the 2003 Pulitzer Prize; Ten Commandments (1998); The Rest of the Way (1992); Kilim (Sea Cliff Press, 1987); Stars Principal (1986); and Scenes from Another Life (1981).

His selected poems, Division of Spoils, appeared in England in 2003. He has also published two collections of essays: Twenty Questions (1998) and White Paper (1989); has edited nearly twenty books, including Horace, The Odes: New Translation by Contemporary Poets (2003), The Vintage Book of Contemporary World Poetry (1996), The Vintage Book of Contemporary American Poetry (1990; second edition, 2003), and Poets on Painters (1988); continues to edit the acclaimed "Voice of the Poet" series for Random House AudioBooks.

McClatchy has also written many texts for musical settings, including eight opera libretti, for such composers as William Schuman, Ned Rorem, Lorin Maazel, Lowell Liebermann, and Elliot Goldenthal, performed in opera houses around the world.

About McClatchy's work, the poet Anthony Hecht said, "There are very few poets writing today who, poem by poem, move me from admiration to admiration, and always with renewed and novel delight. There is no poet writing whose intelligence, dexterity, wit or depth of thoughtfulness or feeling is greater or more telling than J. D. McClatchy's."

His honors include an Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. He has also been one of the New York Public Literary Lions, and received the 2000 Connecticut Governor’s Arts Award. He received the 1991 fellowship from the Academy of American Poets, and served as an Academy Chancellor from 1996 until 2003. He is a lecturer in English at Yale University and lives in Stonington, Connecticut.


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From the Image Archive

 

A Winter Without Snow

J. D. McClatchy, 1945
Even the sky here in Connecticut has it,
That wry look of accomplished conspiracy,
The look of those who've gotten away

With a petty but regular white collar crime.
When I pick up my shirts at the laundry,
A black woman, putting down her Daily News,

Wonders why and how much longer our luck
Will hold.  "Months now and no kiss of the witch."
The whole state overcast with such particulars.

For Emerson, a century ago and farther north,
Where the country has an ode's jagged edges,
It was "frolic architecture."  Frozen blue-

Print of extravagance, shapes of a shared life
Left knee-deep in transcendental drifts:
The isolate forms of snow are its hardest fact.

Down here, the plain tercets of provision do,
Their picket snow-fence peeling, gritty,
Holding nothing back, nothing in, nothing at all.

Down here, we've come to prefer the raw material
Of everyday and this year have kept an eye
On it, shriveling but still recognizable--

A sight that disappoints even as it adds
A clearing second guess to winter.  It's
As if, in the third year of a "relocation"

To a promising notch way out on the Sunbelt,
You've grown used to the prefab housing,
The quick turnover in neighbors, the constant

Smell of factory smoke--like Plato's cave,
You sometimes think--and the stumpy trees
That summer slighted and winter just ignores,

And all the snow that never falls is now
Back home and mixed up with other piercing
Memories of childhood days you were kept in

With a Negro schoolmate, of later storms
Through which you drove and drove for hours
Without ever seeing where you were going.

Or as if you've cheated on a cold sickly wife.
Not in some overheated turnpike motel room
With an old flame, herself the mother of two,

Who looks steamy in summer-weight slacks
And a parrot-green pullover.  Not her.
Not anyone.  But every day after lunch

You go off by yourself, deep in a brown study,
Not doing much of anything for an hour or two,
Just staring out the window, or at a patch

On the wall where a picture had hung for ages,
A woman with planets in her hair, the gravity
Of perfection in her features--oh! her hair

The lengthening shadow of the galaxy's sweep.
As a young man you used to stand outside
On warm nights and watch her through the trees.

You remember how she disappeared in winter,
Obscured by snow that fell blindly on the heart,
On the house, on a world of possibilities.
J. D. McClatchy

J. D. McClatchy

J. D. McClatchy was born in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, in 1945. He

by this poet

poem
It's over, love.  Look at me pushing fifty now,
   Hair like grave-grass growing in both ears,
The piles and boggy prostate, the crooked penis,
   The sour taste of each day's first lie,

And that recurrent dream of years ago pulling
   A swaying bead-chain of moonlight,
Of slipping between the cool sheets of
poem
To steal a glance and, anxious, see
Him slipping into transparency—
The feathered helmet already in place,
Its shadow fallen across his face
(His hooded sex its counterpart)—
Unsteadies the routines of the heart.
If I reach out and touch his wing,
What harm, what help might he then bring?

But suddenly he