Collected Poems, 1953-1993 Collected Poems, 1953-1993
by John Updike

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Collected Poems, 1953-1993

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

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Though better known for his novels and short stories, John Updike has been writing and publishing poems as well for more than four decades. Five separate collections have appeared since 1954, but in COLLECTED POEMS 1953-1993 Updike brings together almost all of his published and previously unpublished works in a volume organized chronologically by date of composition or publication. A brief introduction outlines his purpose in gathering these verses, which he calls his “beloved waifs,” produced somewhat haphazardly during respites from his more concentrated work on his novels and nonfiction works.

As a poet, Updike is concerned with the everyday. His keen eye for what goes on around him captures simple events and ordinary occurrences. With great humor and a sound understanding of the literary tradition, the novelist-turned-poet makes events such as reading the paper, going to the dentist, visiting the library, or witnessing an air show come alive in a few deftly turned phrases. The attentive reader will note how Updike’s travels have led him to produce poetic impressions of such diverse locales as Seattle, Indianapolis, Pompeii, Rio de Janeiro, and Washington, D.C. The best of these poems, however, may be ones about his childhood home in Shillington, Pennsylvania, and the New England region where he has lived as an adult.

Themes that interest Updike in his novels show up in the poetry as well: concerns for theological issues, relations between the sexes. He divides his collection into sections he titles “poems” and “light verses”; works in the latter section provide frequent smiles. In both sections, Updike makes frequent use of the forms of earlier writers; direct and indirect allusions to poets as diverse as Dante, Edmund Spenser, Robert Frost, Walt Whitman, and Alexander Pope give resonance to even slight productions.

In what might be considered an unusual move for a popular writer, Updike provides an editorial apparatus for his poetry, including a preface offering a rationale for his selections, an annotated index, and a section of notes that explain obscure or personal references. Devoted fans of Updike will be happy to add this collection to their shelves, and anyone interested in poetry will find COLLECTED POEMS delightful reading.

Sources for Further Study

America. CLXIX, November 13, 1993, p.22.

Atlanta Journal Constitution. June 13, 1993, p. N8.

Booklist. LXXXIX, March 15, 1993, p.1274.

Boston Globe. April 25, 1993, p.37.

The Christian Century. CX, December 1, 1993, p.1215.

Houston Post. April 25, 1993, p. C4.

Library Journal. CXVIII, April 15, 1993, p.94.

The New Criterion. XI, April, 1993, p.6.

The New Yorker. LXIX, December 27, 1993, p.161.

Publishers Weekly. CCXL, March 1, 1993, p.43.

Washington Times. May 2, 1993, p. B8.