From the Publisher
About John Updike’s Poetry
“Is it conceivable that such a phenomenon also has produced a body of distinguished verse? It is conceivable, and such is in fact the case. [Collected Poems includes] seventy poems hitherto uncollected, written over the last eight or so years and showing Updike at his deepest and best.”
—William H. Pritchard, Boston Globe
“It is difficult to approach John Updike’s Collected Poems as the work of a poet—indeed, one of the best poets writing today. Updike enjoys such pre-eminence as a novelist that his poetry could be mistaken as a hobby or a foible . . . It is a poetry of civility—in its epigrammatical lucidity; in the matters it treats of . . . and in its tone of vulgar bonhomie and good appetite.”
—Thomas M. Disch, Poetry
In Americana and Other Poems, Updike has added one more component to the intriguing composite defining Americana as we know it, a sleek book of poems that tells us a bit more about our heritage than, perhaps, we already knew.
Christian Science Monitor
Updike is one of the most important novelists and short story writers of his generation. After all, how many contemporary writers have really captured the times in a way that will amuse and instruct future readers and critics? Because of his eye for detail and his genius for rich, vivid language, the author's great work will survive the book shredder long after most contemporary metafictionists have vanished. Updike's poetry, although not as widely read, is successful for these same reasons. Updike is a wonderful poet, and the pieces in this new collection point to an enormous talent for concrete language and tripping metrics. Full of vivid and common images, Americana, which is divided into four sections, is a kind of meditation on traveling. The writer touches on everything from vacation travel to the unstoppable trip we're daily making toward death. He examines the maddening frustrations and unnatural convenience of airline flights, and he even takes readers on a quiet trip around the backyard. As Updike observes, "Strange, the extravagance of it all."
In his first collection since Collected Poems 1953-1993, Updike travels across time and space, beginning appropriately with the frustrating culture of airports and motels, a world of "betweentimes" where the "TV remote/ waits by the bed like a suicide pistol." His tour of American cities includes a stop-over at Shillington, PA, his boyhood home, where a stroll through the graveyard inspires a brilliantly updated version of "Elegy in a Country Churchyard." And although he may express a nostalgic sense of loss for "the days of trolley cars, coal furnaces, leaf fires, knickers, and love from above," he can still vividly encounter the artifacts of the here and now in Scotland, France, Italy, Japan, and Brazil. Suffusing these later poems is an aching sense of mortality, as he feels he is chained to time "as to a wheel." In this highly readable collection of 61 poems his 51st book Updike once again proves himself to be a veritable national treasure. Recommended for all collections. Daniel L. Guillory, Millikin Univ., Decatur, IL Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
In one of his new poems, Updike describes himself as "a literary Mr. Sunshine," and the phrase is just right: Updike's poetry, like his prose, is a species of largesse; its boundless charity hints at self-satisfaction. The title poem, a rambling paean for airports and big American beauty, is supposed to have been begun "in ballpoint, on a torn-off scrap / of airline magazine." And many of Updike's poems seem willfully occasional, as if focusing for too long on any subject would be to sin against the even democracy of things (many of these poems are written from airplanes, from whose windows the world looks flat). Sometimes this gratitude, stemming from Updike's Protestant theology, carries him to comic extremes. Nothing is allowed to escape notice, everything is caught up in a tide of relentless fluency, even radiators: "Not theirs the stove's inflammatory drama, / or the refrigerator's frosty glamour / The room lulls our blood not by accident but / by basement-based thermodynamic plan." So style, rising higher and higher, drowns content. Of course it is hard to resist the author's verbal brio, his zest for contemporary gadgets, habits, and curiositiesUpdike, unlike so many poets, appears admirably at home in the modern world. But the price of this comfort is complacency. In the last of this collection, Updike describes Christmas morning, any Christmas morning, where the sound of a newspaper hitting the porch signifies that "some poor devil . . . has brought to us glad tidings." Updike, a practiced cultural commentator, has once again brought the news. Yet it is too often the same news; its obstinately glad tidings seem too good to be true.
Read an Excerpt
Jesus and Elvis
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.