- STAFF PICKS
- GIFTS + GIFT CARDS
- SELL BOOKS
- FIND A STORE
Endpoint and Other Poemsby John Updike
Synopses & Reviews
A stunning collection of poems that John Updike wrote during the last seven years of his life and put together only weeks before he died for this, his final book.
The opening sequence, “Endpoint,” is made up of a series of connected poems written on the occasions of his recent birthdays and culminates in his confrontation with his final illness. He looks back on the boy that he was, on the family, the small town, the people, and the circumstances that fed his love of writing, and he finds endless delight and solace in “turning the oddities of life into words.”
“Other Poems” range from the fanciful (what would it be like to be a stolen Rembrandt painting? he muses) to the celebratory, capturing the flux of life. A section of sonnets follows, some inspired by travels to distant lands, others celebrating the idiosyncrasies of nature in his own backyard.
For John Updike, the writing of poetry was always a special joy, and this final collection is an eloquent and moving testament to the life of this extraordinary writer.
"Many delights but very few surprises await Updike's admirers in this last book of poems from the prolific essayist and novelist, completed only weeks before his death. Much of it gathers calm, casual, loosely rhymed sonnets, first in autobiographical sequences, describing the first and the last years of the poet's life: 'Age I must, but die I would rather not... Be with me, words, a little longer.' These sequences sketch Arizona and New England; single sonnets, placed later in the collection, offer impressions of Russia, India, the Irish seashore ('like loads of eternal laundry,/ onrolling breaks cresting into foam') and of nearer phenomena, such as the noise made by men fixing Updike's house. Quiet poems pay tribute to golf and golfers, to Eros in old age and to 'America, where beneath/ the good cheer and sly jazz the chance/ of failure is everybody's right,/ beginning with baseball.' Elegant samples of Updike's celebrated light verse are also in evidence. Mostly, though, these are serious, quiet, low-pressure, frequently elegiac poems, concerned with later life — 'old doo-wop stars,' for example, 'gray hairdos still conked,/ their up-from-the-choir baby faces lined/ with wrinkles now.'" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
John Updike's prose could sometimes seem so coldly beautiful, so self-aware, that critics occasionally questioned its effectiveness in fiction. Such verbal dandyism, it was thought, actually short-circuited the reading experience: Updike's striking similes and metaphors sucked attention away from the characters and plots. One admired the sentences instead of losing oneself in the story.... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) But poetry is different. In particular, light verse, at which Updike excelled, is almost by definition playful and self-regarding, overtly reveling in its own ingenuity and brilliance. The more clever, the more acrobatic, the more astonishing, the better. What may surprise, though, is that Updike's many serious poems are so frankly personal, full of wistfulness and wonder, and unafraid of being sentimental. For instance, "Dog's Death" and "Another Dog's Death" — both included in his "Collected Poems 1953-1993" — will leave even the most jaded reader near or in tears. I can testify to this. "Endpoint and Other Poems" is, apparently, the last book that John Updike saw through the press before his death this past January. In these pages he writes with devastating plainness about illness and old age: After a Tucson movie, some man in the men's room mirror lunged toward me with wild small eyes, white hair, and wattled neck — who could he be, so hostile and so weird, so due for disposal, like a popcorn bag vile with its inner film of stale, used grease? Where was the freckled boy who used to peek into the front-hall mirror, off to school? That's from one of a series of poems marking the author's birthday in the years between 2002 and 2007. In the last months of his life, Updike also described various hospital visits and procedures: "Days later, the results came casually through: / the gland, biopsied, showed metastasis." If L.E. Sissman, whose witty and civilized poetry Updike admired, hadn't already taken the title, this slender book could easily have been called: "Dying: An Introduction." In "Flying to Florida" Updike reflects on, and identifies with, the snowbirds at Gate 16: "Now, aged, average, dullish, lame, and halt, / we claim our due, our fun doom in the sun." In another poem, he is given a watch with a battery "guaranteed to last ten years, at least. / Ten years! It will tick in my coffin while / my bones continue to deteriorate." "Colonoscopy" ends with an exchange between doctor and patient: "'Perfect. Not a polyp. See you in / five years.' Five years? The funhouse may have folded." It's hard to judge the tone of these melodramatic comments. Bitter? Touched with gallows humor? Self-pitying? Resigned? In the longest poem here, "The Author Observes His Birthday, 2005," Updike reflects on his career and its importance in giving meaning to his life: And then to have my spines line up upon the shelf, one more each year, however out of kilter ran my life! I drank up women's tears and spat them out as 10-point Janson, Roman, and ital. At other times, though, he views those same books — "the piled produce / of bald ambition" — without much cheer, seeing in them only "the silence I dared break for my small time." Many of the poems speak plainly of his desolate awareness of his coming death. Lying in a hospital bed, hooked up to a machine, while his children and grandchildren visit, he asks himself: "Must I do this, uphold the social lie / that binds us all together in blind faith / that nothing ends, not youth nor age nor strength?" Elsewhere, he simply refers to "our wastrel lives." Certainly in youth we all spend our days as if there were an infinite number of tomorrows. Several poems in "Endpoint" recall Updike's early years in Shillington, Pa. He remembers the "peppy knockout" cheerleader, later in life struck down by Parkinson's disease, and the friend whose "wild streak / was tamed by diabetes," which claimed his toes and feet. As man and writer, he is grateful for all they gave him: Dear friends of childhood, classmates, thank you, scant hundred of you, for providing a sufficiency of human types: beauty, bully, hanger-on, natural, twin, and fatso — all a writer needs, all there in Shillington, its trolley cars and little factories, cornfields and trees, leaf fires, snowflakes, pumpkins, valentines. To think of you brings tears less caustic than those the thought of death brings. Perhaps we meet our heaven at the start and not the end of life. Like any good romantic, Updike recalls once more the happy pastimes of a long-vanished childhood: To copy comic strips, stretched prone upon the musty carpet — Mickey's ears, the curl in Donald's bill, the bulbous nose of Barney Google, Captain Easy's squint — what bliss! Not all the poems in "Endpoint" deal with illness and mortality. A section of "light verse" includes the bouncy "Country Music," which opens: Oh Monica, you Monica In your little black beret, You beguiled our saintly Billy And led that creep astray. He'd never seen thong underpants Or met a Valley girl; He was used to Southern women, Like good old Minnie Pearl. There are also some fine poems that remind us of how intently Updike looked at and thought about the ordinary world: "Tools" begins: "Tell me, how do the manufacturers of tools / turn a profit? I have used the same clawed hammer / for forty years." In their last years, many artists cast aside all their usual flourishes, dismiss the circus animals and simply set down, as directly as possible, the realities and inevitabilities of old age. So John Updike has done in this moving book of poems. As he ruefully attests, "In the beginning, Culture does beguile us, / but Nature gets us in the end." Reviewed by Michael Dirda, who can be reached at mdirda(at symbol)gmail.com, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
(hide most of this review)
About 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 was the father of four children and the author of more than sixty books, including novels and collections of short stories, poems, and criticism. His books won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, the American Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the PEN/Faulkner Award, and the Howells Medal, among other honors. He died in January 2009.
What Our Readers Are Saying
Average customer rating based on 2 comments:
Other books you might like