Ten Commandments is a book-length sequence of poems that plot the rules we were raised on, rules we forget but can't evade. Here is the whole underworld of desire, its tasks and perversions. Here are the iron laws and the way the heart is shaped by them, even as it prefers betrayal, adultery, murder, or greed. J. D. McClatchy draws on intimate authobiographical details, and on a range of historical incidents that includes an eerie account of Proust in a brothel and a chilling glimpse of Eichmann in Argentina. Sideshow freaks, snipers in Vietnam, Auden's dictionary, whirling dervishes, motel and mammogram, slave and saint--this book is a cabinet of moral curiosities, a collage of emotional astonishments.
When McClatchy's previous book, The Rest of the Way, was published in 1990, he was given an Award in Literature by the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, whose citation concluded, "it may be that no more eloquent poet will emerge in his American generation."
With Ten Commandments, there can be no question of his mastery. Here is that rare eloquence indeed, charged with passion and raised to a remarkable new power.
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Published March 17, 1998
Literature & Fiction.