Plundered Hearts: New and Selected Poems

J. D. McClatchy, Author
J.D. McClatchy. Knopf, $28.95 (288p) ISBN 978-0-385-35151-5
Reviewed on: 02/24/2014
Release date: 03/25/2014
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“You who read this too will die./ None loved his life as much as I,” we read early in this big, sometimes stark, sometimes surprising new volume, the first U.S. selected and seventh volume of poems from the urbane, serious poet, editor, critic, and librettist (Hazmat). Certainly it confirms his place in a line of deft writers adroit with inherited forms, with complex sentences, with modern love (especially same-sex love): W.H. Auden and James Merrill, Ovid and Horace, Anthony Hecht, and Elizabeth Bishop receive homage direct and indirect. A crown of sonnets, a copious knowledge of opera, blank verse, syllabics, trimeter couplets, and intricate stanzas make the book a kind of cyclopedia of forms. Yet the poems—especially the newer ones—also show what sets McClatchy apart: “What happens when the language is a mask/ And the words we use to hush this up have failed?” Deciding “the poem always has a shadow/ Under its reliefs,” betraying his adult reserve “With that singular lack of shame only a kid commands,” in narrative verse and in epigrams, McClatchy concedes the frailty of the body, the frangibility and the stubbornness of desire, making him a poet of modern mortality (as in the new poem “My Robotic Prostatectomy”). It is an unflinching, uncommonly serious as well as a technically careful performance. (Apr.)
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