Twenty Questions

Twenty Questions

by J. D. McClatchy

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Overview

In Twenty Questions, one of America's finest poet-critics leads readers into the mysteries of poetry: how it draws on our lives, and how it leads us back into them. In a series of linked essays progressing from the autobiographical to the critical—and closing with a remarkable translation of Horace's Ars Poetica unavailable elsewhere—J. D. McClatchy's latest book offers an intimate and illuminating look into the poetic mind.

McClatchy begins with a portrait of his development as a poet and as a man, and provides vibrant details about some of those who helped shape his sensibility—from Anne Sexton in her final days, to Harold Bloom, his enigmatic teacher at Yale, to James Merrill, a wise and witty mentor. All of these glimpses into McClatchy's personal history enhance our understanding of a coming of age from ingenious reader to accomplished poet-critic.

Later sections range through poetry past and present—from Emily Dickinson to Seamus Heaney and W. S. Merwin—with incisive criticism generously interspersed with vivid anecdotes about McClatchy's encounters with other poets' lives and work. A critical unpacking of Alexander Pope's "Epistle to Miss Blount" is interwoven with compassionate psychological portrait of a brilliant poet plagued by both romantic longings and debilitating physical deformities. There are surprising takes on the literary imagination as well: a look at Elizabeth Bishop through her letters, and a tribute to the Broadway lyrics of Stephen Sondheim and the tradition of light verse.

The questions McClatchy poses of poems prompt a fresh look and the last word. Free of scholarly pretension, elegantly and movingly written, Twenty Questions is a bright, open window onto a public and private experience of poetry, to be appreciated by poets, readers, and critics alike.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780231111737
Publisher: Columbia University Press
Publication date: 04/01/1999
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 224
Product dimensions: 6.16(w) x 8.96(h) x 0.45(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

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.

Table of Contents

Reading
Dreaming
My Fountain Pen
Commonplaces
Twenty Questions
Reading Pope
Aspects of "Battle-Piece"
Woman in White
Wildness Asking for Ceremony
At Her Other Desk
Laughter in the Soul
Songs of a Curmudgeon
The Exile's Song
Chiselled Breath
Sitting Here Strangely on Top of the Sunlight
The Lost Upland
Encountering the Sublime
Braving the Elements
Masters
The Art of Poetry

What People are Saying About This

Robert Pinsky

It's no surprise to find in Twenty Questions 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.

Richard Howard

Authoritative but not peremptory, eloquent but not effusive, the tone of these essays ensures that the act of poetic criticism enables McClatchy to enter the realm of the Common Reader's interests and beliefs and remain there.

Richard Howard, author of Like Most Revelations

Mark Doty

'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. Twenty Questions is a book of pleasures, a reader's testament brimming with insight and ardor so evident as to restore to us poetry's power to refresh, provoke, and delight.

Mark Doty, author of My Alexandria and Heaven's Coast

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