McClatchy's formal skill, what has been described as his "civil tongue" (San Francisco Chronicle) imparts an unruffled surface to his work. The fluid syntax of longer narrative pieces such as 'Er' or 'A View of the Sea' is complex but controlled, whilst the tighter constraints of his sonnets, such as the sequence 'My Mammogram', do nothing to dispel the impression of ease. Beneath this classical poise, however, there are disturbing depths as McClatchy examines the damage people inflict on one another in the name of love. Often in these poems it seems that love and pain are inseparable, that human relationships are no better than the coupling of the feral cats in 'The Rented House'. The risk inherent in being a living, feeling person finds disturbing expression in the image of the plant in 'The Agave', the terrible thorns of which sometimes grow so distorted they pierce its own leaves. No wonder that in 'Er' the souls of the dead ask to come back as birds and animals, but though the narrator of this poem is re-born as a warbler, McClatchy himself stays loyal in his poems to "Those humans who shout and slash and smell of flesh."
In this recording McClatchy's calm reading style and his dark-timbred voice realise the tension in his work: how thought and feeling, disciplined by form, can be dangerous, like a gas kept under pressure.
These poems come from a special recording made for The Poetry Archive on 5 May 2005 at The Audio Workshop, London. Producer: Richard Carrington.