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This review is taken from PN Review 160, Volume 31 Number 2, November - December 2004.

J.D. MCCLATCHY, Division of Spoils. Selected Poems (Arc) £8.95
J.D. MCCLATCHY, Hazmat (Alfred A. Knopf) $23

It is surprising to learn that the first two books under review serve to introduce McClatchy and Howard to the British poetry public. Both have had long, distinguished and slightly similar careers in American letters so the fact that they are only now coming to the attention of the British casts doubt on whether Anglo and American poetry cross pollinates as efficiently as most of us would like it to. Poetically, their simultaneous publication provides a felicitous opportunity to juxtapose how each writer takes on the perpetual problem of appearances. Baldly summarised, McClatchy is hot while Howard is cool in a way which repeats the characteristic division of post war American poetry into palefaces and redskins. McClatchy is a piercer, knifing through the present moment to try and reveal the warp and woof of historical and personal antecedents, while Howard is a describer whose poetic constructions add another layer between the subject and the reader.

Howard is a prolific and much-honoured translator and it is impossible to ignore how his own poetry is influenced by the translator's self-effacement in his rendering of the manuscript of another. Howard is fond of writing about someone else's art: he has a five part series of poems on paintings which have shown `Milton dictating paradise Lost to his daughters'. These poems add another layer of description to the inevitability that has been created by Fuseli, Delacroix, and Romney; from the Romney section: `only because I enter on this scene/is it a ...

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