By J.D. Mcclatchy
(Knopf, Paperback, 9780375709913, 96pp.)
Publication Date: April 6, 2004
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HAZMAT, meaning “hazardous material,” is an abbreviation familiar from signs at the entrances to long dark tunnels or on the sides of suspicious containers. Here, in a series of stunning poems, J. D. McClatchy examines the first hazmat we all encounter: our own bodies. The virtuosic “Tattoos” meditates on why we decorate the body’s surface, while other poems plunge daringly inward, capturing the way in which everything that makes us human–desire and decay, need and curiosity, the jarring sense of loss and mortality–hovers in the flesh. In the midst of it all is the heart, its treacheries, its gnawing grievances, its boundless capacities.
With their stark titles (“Cancer,” “Feces,” “Jihad”), McClatchy’s poems work dazzling variations on this book’s theme: how we live with the fact that we will die. Crowned by the twenty-part sequence “Motets,” which deals out an exquisite hand of emotional crises, this collection brings us a sumptuous weave of impassioned thought and clear-sighted feeling. Holding up a powerful poetic mirror, McClatchy shows us our very selves in a chilling series of images: the melodrama of the body being played out, as it must be, in the theater of the spirit.
J. D. McClatchy is the author of four earlier books of poems, Scenes from Another Life (1981), Stars Principal (1986), The Rest of the Way (1990), and Ten Commandments (1998). His literary essays are collected in White Paper (1989) and Twenty Questions (1998). He is the editor of The Vintage Book of Contemporary American Poetry (1990) and The Vintage Book of Contemporary World Poetry (1996), as well as a co-editor of James Merrill’s Collected Poems (2001) and Collected Novels and Plays (2002). The author of several opera libretti, McClatchy is a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He teaches at Yale University and is editor of The Yale Review.