Acclaimed poet and literary critic J.D. “Sandy” McClatchy died Tuesday night at home in Manhattan after a long battle with cancer. He was 72.
McClatchy was the author of eight volumes of poetry, including Hazmat, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. His most recent collection, Plundered Hearts, was published in 2014. He was the author of several collections of essays, and the editor or co-editor of dozens of volumes, including works by James Merrill, Thornton Wilder, and Edna St. Vincent Millay. McClatchy was a longtime editor of the Yale Review and served as president of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In addition, he was the literary executor for the poets Anthony Hecht and Mona Van Duyn and co-executor for James Merrill.
He 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, remembers McClatchy fondly and with admiration. “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.” ◊
. . . . .
August 12, 1945 – April 10, 2018
Love is injustice, said Camus.
We want to be loved. What’s still more true?
Each wants most to be preferred,
And listens for those redeeming words
Better than X, more than Y—
Enough to quiet the child’s cry,
The bridegroom’s nerves, the patient’s
Reluctant belief in providence.
Break what you can, hurt whom you will,
Humiliate the others until
Someone takes a long, hard look.
Oh Love, put down your balance book.