Collected Poems 1953-1993 by John Updike

Charles Loudon* – The Fox Chase Review.

So it begins, “The idea of verse, of poetry, has always, during forty years spent working primarily in prose, stood at my elbow as a standing invitation to the highest kind of verbal exercise-the most satisfying, the most archaic, the most elusive of critical control. In hotel rooms and airplanes, on beaches and Sundays, at junctures of personal happiness or its opposite, poetry has comforted me with its hope of permanence, it packaging of flux” – John Updike

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This beautifully presented collection of Updike’s poetry brings us through the early years and the last years. Updike brings us into daily life, no event to small or large to write about. He is coy, lyrical exhibiting a self depreciating humor and wit.

 In the poem, From Meditation on a News Item, Updike is inspired by a photograph of Castro and Hemingway at the first Hemingway Fishing Tournament in Cuba. He notes the profiles of the two men, that the photograph is cropped and that the tournament is akin to a woodcut of Shakespeare presenting a blue ribbon to Queen Elizabeth for Best Cake Baked. A special note for Hemingway:

How did it happen? Did he/ convulsively departing from the exhausting regimen-the rising at 6 a.m. to sharpen twelve pencils/ with which to cut, as he stands at his bookcase/ 269 or 313 or 451 more words into the paper/ that will compose one of  those many rumored books/ that somehow never appear- did he abruptly exclaim, “I have a fishing tourney!”

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In Plow Cemetery, Updike reflects on his roots in Pennsylvania and his mothers’ purchase of a plot for him to return home when the time came: 

“Plow Cemetery, downhill from the church/ Here rest my maternal forebears underneath/ erect or slightly tipping slender stones/ the earliest inscribed Hier rube, then/with arcs of sentimental English set/ afloat above the still-Germanic names/ in round relief the regional soft rock/ releases to the air slow grain by grain/ until the dates that framed a brisk existence/ spent stamping amid animals and weather/ are weathered into timelessness

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“New mounds weep pink in the rain/ Live moles hump up the porous, grassy ground/ Traffic along Route 10 is quieter now/ the Interstate exists in parallel, forming a fourlane S in the middle view/ that wasn’t there before, this side the smudge/ red Reading makes between its blue-brown hills.”

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From Lament, for Cocoa 

“ The scum has come/ My coca’s cold/ The cup is numb/ And I grow old.

It seems an age/ Since from the pot/ It bubbled, beige/ And burning hot-

Too hot to be/ Too quickly quaffed/ Accordingly/ I felt a draft

And in it placed/ The boiling brew/ And took a taste/ Of toast or two.

Alas, time flies/ And minutes chill/ My coca lies/ Dull brown and still.

How wearisome! In likelihood/ The scum, once come, Is come for good.”

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The beauty of Updike and his poetry is that he tackles serious subject matter and never hesitates to delve into what some may say is trivial. Bold for a poet in any time or school of poetry. Quite simply The Collected Poems 1953-1993 by John Updike is an excellent read and never pretentious. I am glad that the idea of verse, of poetry always stood next to his elbow with a standing invitation.

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You can find it here: http://www.amazon.com/Collected-Poems-1953-1993-John-Updike/dp/0679762043

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 *Charles Loudon lives on Cottman Avenue in Philadelphia, he is not sure if he lives in Fox Chase or Burholme depending on who he speaks with. He is frequent visitor to the Ryerss Library. This is the second in a series of reviews Mr. Loudon is writing for National Poetry Month.

** some text does not appear as in the collection due to format problems.

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