From Booklist‘s forthcoming review:
McClatchy’s translations are marvelously supple, lucid, and spirited. Not only does he break new ground by translating verse into verse, he is also attuned to the wit and profound loneliness and longing in Mozart, infusing each finely crafted line with emotion. [… A] unique and thrilling tour de force.
J. D. McClatchy has received the 2010 Ambassador Book Award for Poetry from the English-Speaking Union of the United States for his book of poems “Mercury Dressing” (2009).
The Ambassador Book Awards recognize important literary works that contribute to the understanding and interpretation of American life and culture. Winners become “literary ambassadors,” providing people around the world with a window on America’s past and present in the best contemporary English.
In accepting his award, McClatchy noted: “In 1200, a Japanese monk said, ‘Enlightenment is like the moon reflected in the ocean. The moon doesn’t get wet and the water isn’t broken. Although its light is wide and vast, the moon is reflected even in a puddle an inch long. The whole moon and the whole sky are reflected in a dew drop on the grass.’ Our job as writers is to recover the truth but also to keep the invisible attached. It has been an honor for decades now to watch for the moon on the dewdrop, to search the heart for its own trembling light. It is in words we find our way to see the world; that mine this year have been chosen as ambassadors, is an enormous privilege.”
In an interview on the blog Opera Chic, J. D. McClatchy discusses An Inconvenient Truth, Robert Lepage, 1984, other poets as librettists, and his own expansion from poetry to opera:
Everything is learned on the job. There are no courses to take. We go to the opera house as kids, and watch and listen. The Met radio broadcasts were a way for me to learn the repertory, but also to listen to the drama as music. Later, in the upper balconies, I could see how people entered and exited, how the soprano’s lonely solo was followed by a chorus, and so on. Operatic dramaturgy has its own rhythms. I think being a poet trains you to be concise, to move in language by images, to understand the dynamic of speech. Advancing a plot and revealing a character in opera—well, there’s very little time to do that. Poets seem best equipped for the task.
Jeremy Axelrod has an article for Poetry Foundation on poets working as librettists which features our very own J. D. McClatchy:
Like many poets, McClatchy landed his first commission with a bit of serendipity. In 1987, the composer William Schuman asked Richard Wilbur to write a libretto for his next project, A Question of Taste, adapted from a Roald Dahl story. Wilbur, overscheduled at the time, suggested that Schuman call McClatchy instead. But while a libretto calls on a poet’s gifts, it uses those gifts differently. To master the libretto form, McClatchy first had to adjust his priorities. “Poetry—or at least the kind of poetry I write—solicits a density of texture and a range of allusion and nuance that are largely useless in a libretto,” McClatchy says. “Of course I try for as much pathos or wit or elegance as possible in a libretto, but I am also keenly aware that the words have to be sung and understood, both very difficult operations in a large opera house. So I have to strive for a kind of clarity, a kind of ‘build,’ and an economy that would almost be handicaps in the writing of a poem.”
University of Illinois professor of English Michael Anania writes to the editors of The New York Times on Joel Brouwer’s Mercury Dressing review:
It measures, perhaps, the success of New Formalism’s self-serving argument that writing in meter is difficult that Joel Brouwer (“Poetry Chronicle,” April 26) should be astonished to the point of italics at the news that J. D. McClatchy spoke an iambic pentameter line in his sleep. There are so many bad iambic lines (that’s one, by the way), we should not be surprised if they slip out between a poet’s snoring and his sighs (that’s two more).
Joel Brouwer, writing for the Times:
Has your companion ever reported some wonderful thing you said in your sleep, like “snowflake operator” or “funky nectarine”? I regret to inform you that no matter how clever you may have thought your unconscious self, McClatchy probably has you beat: the first line of his “Poem Beginning With a Line Spoken, I Am Told, in My Sleep” — “The names of every place were once so cold” — is in iambic pentameter. Given McClatchy’s formal virtuosity, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn he jots his grocery lists in terza rima, too.
Read the full review here (second on the page).
For a review of events around campus celebrating National Poetry Month, the Yale Daily News spoke to J. D. McClatchy about poetry at Yale, National Poetry Month itself, and the musical adaptation of “Resignation,” among other things:
“Life is cut up into fast food bits that are taken in and barely chewed or swallowed,” he said. “[Poetry] is meant to complicate things, to slow the life down, not speed it up.”
For McClatchy, the events this weekend are part of a larger discussion about the role of poets and poetry in the Yale community. Though he praised the recent influx of poetry events, McClatchy said that celebrating a National Poetry Month does have one downside.
“The danger of National Poetry Month is that it might allow you to forget about poetry for the other 11,” he said.
“It’s crucial for students to learn the art now, so that they won’t waste any opportunity that life offers for inspiration,” he said. “They will then be equipped with the tools to transform life into art.
Calling ours a “great era of translation,” The Philadelphia Inquirer includes Horace: The Odes in a group of favorably reviewed recent translations:
J. D. McClatchy, a celebrated poet, editor, and scholar, has assembled an all-star team to create this sparkling collection of odes. The lineup—Robert Bly, Robert Creeley, Linda Gregerson, Donald Hall, W.S. Merwin, Paul Muldoon, Robert Pinsky, C.K. Williams, and others—is breathtaking. They’re not only good poets; they’re also good poets who hear Horace and bring him across. They hear laughter where there’s laughter, sorrow where there’s sorrow, and take all sorts of risks.
A very positive review in the March 1 issue of LJ:
McClatchy […] shows that his penchant for seamlessly combining the classical with the contemporary is virtually unmatched. [He] is operating in familiar territory, one whose sensual qualities map well to his own proclivities. […] Penning a mixture of the mythical and the earthly, McClatchy makes us forget which is which: we know only the rich sensual textures and pithy plays of phrase as we move clockwise through this new volume.
Phoebe Pettingell has an in-depth review of Mercury Dressing in the current issue of The New Leader:
Mercury Dressing scintillates with […] startling yet apt descriptions. McClatchy knows how to make an ingenious metaphor sound so right you wish it had occurred to you first. 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.
Poets like J. D. McClatchy prove that the Romantic Movement is alive and well.
Read the full review here (PDF—The Mercury Dressing review runs on pages 29 and 30).