cover image Collected Poems: 1953-1993

Collected Poems: 1953-1993

John Updike. Alfred A. Knopf, $30 (387pp) ISBN 978-0-679-42221-1

This collection gathers more than 300 of Updike's poems, some written in his youth and others very recently. Admirers of his fiction know that verbal precision, edged with wit, is one of Updike's hallmarks, and readers will fall upon his light verse with delighted recognition of its sheer cleverness. As a versifier, Updike knows full well how to use tools for the purposes of play, but he doesn't (usually) overindulge; even in the case of ``occasional'' poems, he polishes and polishes a passing subject with a certain modesty, until it shimmers: ``White Dwarf,'' written to mark the discovery of ``the smallest known star,'' salutes ``A little pill in endless night, / An antidote to cosmic fright.'' The trouble, though, begins with his sober poetry. For some reason, when he works in this vein, Updike's ear tends to falter, his judgment often errs and the poetry wanders into dangerously trivial territory. This is puzzling, since Updike's sense of rhythm in prose is exceptional, and his perceptions are bound so intimately with those rhythms. Not so here, unfortunately. (Apr.)