cover image AMERICANA and Other Poems

AMERICANA and Other Poems

John Updike, . . Knopf, $23 (112pp) ISBN 978-0-375-41254-7

Anyone who could still call a poem "Two Cunts in Paris" and expect people to laugh or get a touch of frisson is either a novelist or completely out of touch—or both. Checking in with a collection of 60-odd lyrics from the period following his Collected Poems 1953–1993, Rabbit Angstrom creator, New Yorker mainstay poet-critic and American institution Updike delivers up wryly entertaining verse goods while paradoxically preoccupied with death and failure. "Death in Venice" watches two women try to resuscitate a dying man: "In the minute or two we watched, his face,/ seen upside down like some devil's, turned blue./ My wife thought they were doing it wrong,/ this pair slaving like whores at their client." The speaker of "Two of My Characters" laments "I wanted you to be beautiful, the both of you,/ and, here among real flowers, fear I failed." Yet he seems aware that such musings on others are evasive: "I have time/ at last to consider my life, this its stubby stale end—/ whither, and wherefore, and who says?/ But I fail to." Yet along with the anachronistic gender trouble and crabby melancholia, Updike gives readers a tour of the cities, art works and times of day he has known and loved—and a life, however imperfect, emerges, "cruel as it is beautiful and frail." (May 23)

Forecast:Updike is perhaps the New Yorker's most frequently published poet, so fans will be glad to have a selection of recent work with which they may be familiar. Rabbit fans who read no other poetry will buy the book if they spot it in-store, particularly given the expansive title.