John Updike's first collection of verse since his Collected Poems, 1953-1993 brings together fifty-eight poems, three of them of considerable length. The four sections take up, in order: America, its cities and airplanes; the poet's life, his childhood, birthdays, and ailments; foreign travel, to Europe and the tropics; and, beginning with the long "Song of Myself," daily life, its furniture and consolations. There is little of the light verse with which Mr. Updike began his writing career nearly fifty years ago,...
John Updike's first collection of verse since his Collected Poems, 1953-1993 brings together fifty-eight poems, three of them of considerable length. The four sections take up, in order: America, its cities and airplanes; the poet's life, his childhood, birthdays, and ailments; foreign travel, to Europe and the tropics; and, beginning with the long "Song of Myself," daily life, its furniture and consolations. There is little of the light verse with which Mr. Updike began his writing career nearly fifty years ago, but a light touch can be felt in his nimble manipulation of the ghosts of metric order, in his caressing of the living textures of things, and in his reluctance to wave goodbye to it all.
John Updike was born in 1932, in Shillington, Pennsylvania. He graduated from Harvard College in 1954, and spent a year in Oxford, England, at the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art. From 1955 to 1957 he was a member of the staff of The New Yorker. He is the author of more than fifty books, including collections of short stories, poems, essays, and criticism. His novels have won the Pulitzer Prize (twice), the National Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the Howells Medal.
From the Hardcover edition.
With an uncommonly varied oeuvre that includes poetry, criticism, essays, short stories, and novels, two-time Pulitzer Prize winner John Updike helped to change the face of late-20th-century American literature.
Born in Reading, Pennsylvania, Updike graduated summa cum laude from Harvard in 1954. Following a year of study in England, he joined the staff of The New Yorker, establishing a relationship with the magazine that continued until his death in January, 2009. For more than 50 years, he lived in two small towns in Massachusetts that inspired the settings for several of his stories.
In 1958, Updike's first collection of poetry was published. A year later, he made his fiction debut with The Poorhouse Fair. But it was his second novel, 1960's Rabbit, Run, that forged his reputation and introduced one of the most memorable characters in American fiction. Former small-town basketball star Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom struck a responsive chord with readers and critics alike and catapulted Updike into the literary stratosphere.
Updike would revisit Angstrom in 1971, 1981, and 1990, chronicling his hapless protagonist's jittery journey into undistinguished middle age in three melancholy bestsellers: Rabbit Redux, Rabbit Is Rich, and Rabbit at Rest. A concluding novella, "Rabbit Remembered," appeared in the 2001 story collection Licks of Love.
Although autobiographical elements appear in the Rabbit books, Updike's true literary alter ego was not Harry Angstrom but Harry Bech, a famously unproductive Jewish-American writer who starred in his own story cycle. In between -- indeed, far beyond -- his successful series, Updike went on to produce an astonishingly diverse string of novels. In addition, his criticism and short fiction became popular staples of distinguished literary publications.
Good To Know
Updike first became entranced by reading when he was a young boy growing up on an isolated farm in Pennsylvania. Afflicted with psoriasis and a stammer, he escaped his self-consciousness by immersing himself in drawing, writing, and reading.
An accomplished artist, Updike accepted a one-year fellowship to study painting at the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Arts at Oxford University. He decided to attend Harvard University because he was a big fan of the school's humor magazine, The Harvard Lampoon.
One of the most respected authors of the 20th century, Updike won every major literary prize in America, including the Guggenheim Fellow, the Rosenthal Award, the National Book Award in Fiction, the O. Henry Prize, the American Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Union League Club Abraham Lincoln Award, the National Arts Club Medal of Honor, and the National Medal of the Arts.
Twenty years after the death, St. Paul
was sending the first of his epistles,
and bits of myth or faithful memory–
multitudes fed on scraps, the dead small girl
told "Talitha, cumi"–were self-assembling
as proto-Gospels. Twenty years since pills
and chiliburgers did another in,
they gather at Graceland, the simple believers,
the turnpike pilgrims from the sere Midwest,
mother and daughter bleached to look alike,
Marys and Lazaruses, you and me,
brains riddled with song, with hand-tinted visions
of a lovely young man, reckless and cool
as a lily. He lives. We live. He lives.
(Poem Begun on Thursday, October 14, 1993, at O’Hare Airport, Terminal 3, Around Six O’Clock P.M.)
Gray within and gray without: the dusk
is rolling west, a tidal wave of shadow
that gently drowns Chicago. Overhead,
the gray steel arches of this much-admired
architectural essay in public space
blend with gray sky and distill a double
sense of semi-enclosure, of concealment
in a universal open that includes:
the airfield with its pomp of taxiing
fresh-landed smooth-nosed behemoths;
the feeder highway sloping to an underpass
not far beyond a gray-ribbed wall of glass;
the taillights blazing ruby as autos brake
and fume with passion in the evening jam;
the silvery Midwestern sky, its height
implying an oceanic stretch of grain
whose port is this diffuse metropolis.
Without, translucent clouds; within, mute hordes
of travelling strangers, numinous, their brisk
estrangement here a mode of social grace.
No two touching as they interweave
and dodge in the silent interior dusk
beneath the mock cathedral arches, each
soul intent, each ticketed, each rapt
with a narrow vision, these persons throng
my heart with a rustle of love, of joy
that I am among them, where night and day,
mingling, make a third thing, a betweentimes
of ecstatic layover and suspension.
Women in gray jackets mocking those
of men, above their taut gray skirts, and blacks
striding enlivened by the dignity
of destination, and children unafraid
of being lifted up in aluminum arms;
brightly colored pools of candy bars; the men’s
room prim beside the equal-access women;
briefcases floating in a leather flock;
announcements twanging in the transfixed air
where cloudy faces merge and part again,
a cumulus of ghosts advancing, stern
yet innocent of everything but time,
advancing through me to their set departures,
through walls of gray, as nearby taillights burn
more furious in their piecemeal, choked descent.
Another fine transparency of film
is added to the evening’s shining weight
of lovely nothingness, among machines.
This poem—in ballpoint, on a torn-off scrap
of airline magazine—got lost, along
with several boarding passes, ticket stubs,
and airline napkins. Now it seeks me out
here in New Jersey, on November 5th,
a Friday, in a Fairfield Radisson
that overlooks an empty parking lot.
At dusk, the painted stripes devoid of cars
are like unplayed piano keys, a-gleam
within the drizzle that is lacquering
the Garden State. Beyond: Route 46;
an unknown mall; a stream of traffic glowing
white in the one direction, red in the other.
This poem again, its kiss of ecstasy
among waste spaces, airy corridors
to somewhere else, where all men long to be.
I strain my eyes, as neon starts to tell
its buzzing, shoddy tale; across the stream
of traffic hangs a weathered sign that spells
american way mall. The hotel room—
the shapes of luxury in cut-rate textures—
offers nothing superfluous, not even
a self-important so-called “scratchpad” near
the telephone, where travellers might write
how strangely thrilled they were to pass this way,
the American way, where beauty is left
to make it on its own, with no directives
from kings or cultural commissars on high.
It emerges, it seeps forth, stunning us
with its grand erosions of the self;
its grit of atomisms and fleet inklings
can carve a canyon or function as a clock
that wakes to tick one single tick a day.
The poem evaporates, a second time
is lost, and then a third, in your reading
here and now, which turn to there and then
as dampness overtakes, quick molecule
by molecule, the glowing moment
when God’s gray fire flickers on the edge
of the field of vision like a worm of flame
that struggles to consume a printed page.