The Ten Commandments Essay - Critical Essays

J. D. McClatchy

The Ten Commandments

Joseph Donald McClatchy’s verse is, in large part, a thematic throw back to pre-Postmodern literature eschewing innovation in favor of more traditional metrical cadences, simple imagery, and conventional rhyme schemes in straightforward narratives. This is not to say McClatchy is without vitality, virtuosity, versatility or originality, but rather to note his verse is likeliest to please readers comfortable with the moralistic slow pace and somber tone of pre-World War II poets. Ironically, this mastery of tradition makes TEN COMMANDMENTS one of the most important collections of new poetry in some time.

TEN COMMANDMENTS is a series of humanistic fragments perhaps best described by McClatchy’s line in his poem “Betrayal” in which magic and the nature of God are found in “little candles, little powers.” McClatchy is perhaps most inventive in his organization of poems written over a number of years, assembling them under the subheadings of each of the Old Testament Ten Commandments. Under this umbrella, McClatchy’s purposes and perspectives vary widely, so only personal taste and philosophical bent will determine a reader’s appreciation for the “little powers” of confessional poetry solidly connected to a previous literary generation. Subsequently, most readers will find themselves reflecting on parts rather than the whole, but many parts are well worth the reflection.

While positive musings and flashes of humor appear throughout the volume, McClatchy is most affecting when exposing his skepticism about Biblical law, tracing his own breaking of each of the commandments. McClatchy wants readers to digest such musings slowly, and to insure this crafts each line in slow, deliberate meters. As a result, this volume is not a breakthrough collection but is worthy of interest for its place as perhaps the last of a dying breed of poetry.

Sources for Further Study

The Advocate. April 28, 1998, p. 62.

Kirkus Reviews. LXVI, March 15, 1998, p. 368.

Lambda Book Report. VII, August, 1998, p. 30.

Library Journal. CXXIII, April 1, 1998, p. 92.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. April 19, 1998, p. 64.

New Criterion. XVII, December, 1998, p. 69.

The New Leader. LXXXI, April 6, 1998, p. 14.

The New York Review of Books. XLV, July 16, 1998, p. 41.

Publishers Weekly. CCXLV, February 23, 1998, p. 69.

Time. CLI, March 30, 1998, p. 68.