This Old Poem #51:
J.D. McClatchy’s Glanum
Copyright © by Dan Schneider, 3/22/03

  J.D. McClatchy is 1 of those poets who is not a ‘big’ name, nor is he considered a poet of any reckoning. Instead, he’s 1 of those people who’s really a critic who longs to be a poet. How does JDM accomplish this? Simple- all a no-talent has to do is claim to be a ‘Neo-Formalist’. Neo-Fos are usually horrid poets who simply break their prose doggerel into rhymed poetry & exceedingly obvious & clapped out ‘metrics’- usually in bad couplets.
  Of course, even doggerelists from Academia & ‘the street’ know this, & snicker behind his back- even while praising him in public. Why? Well, not only the insidious rule of never ‘outing’ a fellow doggerelist lest they out you in return, but also because JDM is primarily known as a critic, & could inflict far more damage to a reputation than any mere attack from a fellow poetaster.
  Witness some of these ass-kisses:

"No American poet critic. . . . has written such beautiful prose or wielded such manifold and supple terms of analysis. McClatchy analyzes poetry as only a poet could, with an insider´s knowledge of the craft -and of the terror of the blank page."– Los Angeles Times


***Read- I have never heard of JDM but using supple in the proximity of analysis will get me noticed in The Sycophantic Review.


"The full force of [McClatchy´s] probing intelligence and emotional insight catches us up with infectious gusto. . . . T.S. Eliot, W.H. Auden, Allen Tate, Howard Nemerov, Louise Bogan, and Randall Jarrell all commanded admiration for their essays and their verse. McClatchy belongs in this select company, and his skills in one mode complement his gifts in the other."– The New Leader


***Read- Let me show off my copy of the Norton’s Anthology….& is not all intelligence probing?


"In this time of literary ‘scattering’, when many poets admire and practice techniques of fragmentation, McClatchy´s voice resounds with urbanity, clarity, deadly wit. The power of this civil tongue is classical, expository, the voice of the integrated psyche."– San Francisco Chronicle


***It’s a given that whenever a critic of anything opens a sentence with ‘In this time of….’ that absolutely nothing of consequence will follow. See?


"‘There are no critics,´ wrote Randall Jarrell, ‘around the throne of God.´ But surely the angels -and Jarrell himself -would welcome J. D. McClatchy into their company, since these nourishing, opinionated, energizing essays are everything writing about poetry ought to be."– Mark Doty


***Mark Doty is 1 of the premier blurbists/poetasters of the Modern Age. God love the bent S.O.B.!


"It's no surprise to find….qualities that have always distinguished J.D. McClatchy's work: sparkling intelligence; learning; an informed immersion in the poetry of our time….In a noble tradition of the essay, he chooses to write about the writers who interest him, personally, not always part of the familiar academic canon….A generous, bracing collection."– Robert Pinsky


***‘Sparkling intelligence’, ‘informed immersion’, ‘noble tradition’, ‘bracing collection’- is it any wonder why RP had his own TOP?


  Is it also any surprise that this critic-cum-wannabe poet had the insidious Harold Bloom (the Prince of Poetic Wannabes) as his teacher at Yale? Oh, did I mention the requisite & predictable c.v.?:


  J.D. McClatchy is the author of four collections of poems: Scenes from Another Life, Stars Principal, The Rest of the Way, and "Ten Commandments." His literary essays are collected in White Paper, which won the Melville Cane Award granted by the Poetry Society of America. He is the editor of The Vintage Book of Contemporary World Poetry and The Vintage Book of Contemporary American Poetry, and has served, since 1991, as the editor of the Yale Review. Named a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 1996, he received an award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1991. He lives in New York City.

  In the best tradition of the foppish dilettante- Excelsior!: 


     at the ruins of a provincial Roman town


So this is the city of love.
I lean on a rail above
Its ruined streets and square
Still wondering how to care
For a studiously unbuilt site
Now walled and roofed with light.
A glider's wing overhead
Eclipses the Nike treads
On a path once freshly swept
Where trader and merchant kept
A guarded company.
As far as the eye can see
The pampered gods had blessed
The temples, the gates, the harvest,
The baths and sacred spring,
Sistrum, beacon, bowstring.
Each man remembered his visit
To the capital's exquisite
Libraries or whores.
The women gossiped more
About the one-legged crow
Found in a portico
Of the forum, an omen
That sluggish priests again
Insisted required prayer.
A son's corpse elsewhere
Was wrapped in a linen shroud.
A distant thundercloud
Mimicked a slumping pine
That tendrils of grape entwined.
Someone kicked a dog.
The orator's catalogue
Prompted worried nods
Over issues soon forgot.
A cock turned on a spit.
A slave felt homesick.
The underclass of scribes
Was saved from envy by pride.
The always invisible legion
Fought what it would become.

         • • •

We call it ordinary
Life—banal, wary,
Able to withdraw
From chaos or the law,
Intent on the body's tides
And the mysteries disguised
At the bedside or the hearth,
Where all things come apart.
There must have been a point—
While stone to stone was joined,
All expectation and sweat,
The cautious haste of the outset—
When the city being built,
In its chalky thrust and tilt,
Resembled just for a day
What's now a labeled display,
These relics of the past,
A history recast
As remarkable rubble,
Broken column, muddled
Inscription back when
Only half up, half done.
Now only the ruins are left,
A wall some bricks suggest,
A doorway into nothing,
Last year's scaffolding.
By design the eye is drawn
To something undergone.
A single carving remains
The plunder never claimed,
And no memories of guilt
Can wear upon or thrill
This scarred relief of a man
And woman whom love will strand,
Their faces worn away,
Their heartache underplayed,
Just turning as if to find
Something to put behind
Them, an emptiness
Of uncarved rock, an excess
Of sharp corrosive doubt.

         • • •

Now everything's left out
To rain and wind and star,
Nature's repertoire
Of indifference or gloom.
This French blue afternoon,
For instance, how easily
The light falls on debris,
How calmly the valley awaits
Whatever tonight frustrates,
How quickly the small creatures
Scurry from the sunlight's slur,
How closely it all comes to seem
Like details on the table between
Us at dinner yesterday,
Our slab of sandstone laid
With emblems for a meal.
Knife and fork. A deal.
Thistle-prick. Hollow bone.
The olive's flesh and stone.

  Forget the incessant listing, forget the abundance of trite images & phrases, forget the utter lack of anything described or experienced being poetic, forget the fact that the ‘rhythm’ of the poem has the music of a dying wino’s last ‘Booyah!’- but why- oh why?- did he have to cast this garbage in couplets? Let’s rewrite it with as much attention to detail as JDM obviously paid the original:


     at the ruins of a provincial Roman town

I lean on a rail above
Its ruined streets and square
Now walled and roofed with light.  
A distant thundercloud
Mimicked a slumping pine
Prompting worried nods
Over issues soon forgot.
From chaos or the law,
And the mysteries disguised
Where all things come apart
There must have been a point-
All expectation and sweat,
When the city, being built,
Resembled just for a day
These relics of the past,
As remarkable rubble.
By design the eye is drawn
To their faces worn away,
Just turning as if to find
Something of corrosive doubt.
For instance, how easily
Whatever tonight frustrates,
Will quickly scurry between
This olive's flesh and stone.


  Instead of faux discursiveness we get a tighter narrative, a speaker that actually makes a poetic connection between the old & new, dead & living, & an endline that now can be interpreted many ways. Is it great? No. But it’s short & removed from the Purgatory of Couplets. Just look at all the unnecessary added, & clichéd, tropes from the original. This is known as trimming. JDM- now take the rewrite & actually try to write a ‘poem’. That’s P-O-E-M. I knew you’d get it, someday.

Final Score: (1-100):

J.D. McClatchy’s Glanum: 35
TOP’s Glanum: 65

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