By J.D. Mcclatchy
(Knopf, Hardcover, 9780307270658, 112pp.)
Publication Date: February 10, 2009
Other Editions of This Title: Paperback
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Since the publication of Hazmat, a book about the life of the body—short-listed for the Pulitzer Prize—J. D. McClatchy’s poetry has increasingly taken up the life of the soul. Now in verse as quicksilver as it is authoritative, he returns to themes he has touched on before, but from a new or unusual perspective—focusing on the frame rather than the picture, the tear rather than the sorrow.
The title poem captures the nervous energy and aloneness surrounding the figure of Mercury, while the stunning long poem “Sorrow in 1944” tells the tale of the grown child of Madame Butterfly. McClatchy’s impulse is to tell the story after the story, the minor opera in the shadows of a great one that nonetheless tells its own tale of the heart, bearing its own measure of tragedy and hope.
With its emotional range, maturity, and formal elegance, Mercury Dressing is the finest work to date from one of our most significant poets.
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 disappears,
As so much else has down the years . . .
Until I feel him deep inside
The emptiness, preoccupied.
His nerve electrifies the air.
His message is his being there.
J. D. McClatchy is the author of five earlier books of poems and three collections of prose. He has served as the editor of many books, including The Vintage Book of Contemporary American Poetry, and has written thirteen opera libretti that have been performed at the Metropolitan Opera, Covent Garden, La Scala, and elsewhere. McClatchy teaches at Yale University and is the editor of The Yale Review. He lives in New York City and Stonington, Connecticut.
“Powerful . . . Given McClatchy’s formal virtuosity, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn he jots his grocery lists down in terza rima, too.” —The New York Times Book Review
“Although these poems lament the smarts and humiliations attendant on love and loss, they provoke the kind of wonder and joy we experience when the curtain comes down on a dazzling performance.” —The New Leader