Obituary Note: J.D. McClatchy

Acclaimed poet and literary critic J.D. McClatchy died April 10. He was 72. McClatchy published eight volumes of poetry, including Hazmat, which was a finalist for the 2003 Pulitzer Prize, and his most recent collection, Plundered Hearts: New and Selected Poems (2014).

In addition to his own essay collections, McClatchy was the editor or co-editor of numerous books, including works by James Merrill, Thornton Wilder, and Edna St. Vincent Millay. McClatchy was a longtime editor of the Yale Review, and a significant translator of opera libretti, from The Magic Flute to Miss Lonelyhearts. In addition, he was the literary executor for the poets Anthony Hecht and Mona Van Duyn, and co-executor for James Merrill. McClatchy is survived by his husband, Chip Kidd, associate director of cover art at Knopf, as well as three sisters: Edith Pahl, Joan Brennan and Elizabeth Davis.

Deborah Garrison, his longtime editor at Knopf, said: "He was the most admirable of poets because he combined formal discipline with a refusal to be formal in the subjects he treated--all was fair game, as he examined the hazardous materials of the body, the heart, and our troubling desires and needs. He was exacting in contemplating our failures, but he loved their aftermath, which he studied with that keen poet's awareness that we could be better, do better, and that beautiful things (the opera, good poems, dear friends) were our worthiest refuge. His life, too, was lived with precise purpose, and a breezy cheerfulness about the messiness of it all. Sandy always had time to gossip in the midst of myriad deadlines, and I marveled at the hours he logged in his dedication to the literary arts. His own work was a major contribution to American poetry, yet he rarely mentioned it because he was busily engaged in editing or enlarging the work of others. His part in shepherding multiple volumes of James Merrill's collected writings will remain a high point for me personally, as he taught me how to properly honor the poets we love, and how we can grow by inhabiting their work more deeply over time. This will be true for all of us when it comes to McClatchy's splendid poems, which will continue to reward and surprise us when we need them most."

The New York Times noted that among "McClatchy’s many laurels are two Lambda Literary Awards and Poetry magazine’s Levinson Prize. He was a past chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and a past president of American Academy of Arts and Letters."

From his poem "Late Night Ode:

Some nights I've laughed so hard the tears
   Won't stop.  Look at me now.  Why now?
I long ago gave up pretending to believe
   Anyone's memory will give as good as it gets.

So why these stubborn tears?  And why do I dream
   Almost every night of holding you again,
Or at least of diving after you, my long-gone,
   Through the bruised unbalanced waves?


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