Americana and Other Poems

Overview

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,...
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Americana: and Other Poems

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Overview

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.
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Editorial Reviews

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

Christopher Bowden
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
From The Critics
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."
—Stephen Whited

(Excerpted Review)
Library Journal
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.
Kirkus Reviews
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 curiosities—Updike, 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.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375412547
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 5/15/2001
  • Pages: 95
  • Product dimensions: 5.25 (w) x 8.26 (h) x 0.61 (d)

Meet the Author

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.

Biography

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.

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    1. Also Known As:
      John Hoyer Updike (full name)
    1. Date of Birth:
      March 18, 1932
    2. Place of Birth:
      Shillington, Pennsylvania
    1. Date of Death:
      January 27, 2009
    2. Place of Death:
      Beverly Farms, MA

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.

Americana

(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.

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Table of Contents

Americana 3
Island Cities 6
Phoenix 7
Atlanta-Dallas/Fort Worth, 11:10 P.M. 8
On the Road 10
Bad Night in New York State 11
The Overhead Rack 12
Icarus 14
Corpus Christi 16
New Orleans 18
Corinth, MS 18
Reading, PA 19
Near Clifton, Perhaps 20
New York City 21
Flight to Limbo 22
Before the Mirror 27
The Hedge 28
In the Cemetery High Above Shillington 29
61 and Some 35
Vero Beach Birthday 36
Upon Becoming a Senior Citizen 37
A Wound Posthumously Inflicted 38
On the Nearly Simultaneous Deaths of Harold Brodkey and Joseph Brodsky 40
One Tough Keratosis 41
Ocular Hypertension 43
To Two of My Characters 44
Reality 45
Downtime 46
To a Skylark 49
Marine Hotel, North Berwick, Scotland, May 1998 50
Prague, Again 52
The Witnesses 53
Piet 54
Beauvais 55
Two Cunts in Paris 56
Death in Venice 58
Orvieto 60
Jacopo Pontormo 61
Venetian Candy 62
Hiroshima, 2000 64
At the Miho Museum 65
Shito 66
A Brazilian Valentine 67
Pura Vida 68
Subtropical Night 70
Boca Grande Sunset 71
Song of Myself 75
December Sun 80
A Rescue 81
Replacing Sash Cords 82
Radiators 83
Slum Lords 84
Money 85
Bridge 86
Transparent Stratagems 87
Montes Veneris 89
Rainbow 90
Chicory 91
Jesus and Elvis 92
Religius Consolation 93
Saying Goodbye to Very Young Children 94
A Sound Heard Early on the Morning of Christ's Nativity 95
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