Telephone Poles and Other Poems

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WHEN, five years and five books of fiction ago, THE CARPENTERED HEN, John Updike's first collection of verse, was published, Phyllis McGinley wrote: “I have been happily reading Mr. Updike in The New Yorker for some time and am happy, now, to own him collected. When he first appeared in that magazine, I was so elated to see a new name in light verse that I felt like crying with the Ancient Mariner 'A Sail, A Sail!' His is what poetry of this sort exactly out to be—playful but elegant, sharp-eyed, witty.” In the Saturday Review, David McCord wrote: “Furthermore, he is a graceful border-crosser (light verse to poem) as Auden has been; as Betjeman and McGinley frequently are.”
This second collection is equally divided between poems that, in their verbal jugglery and humorous bias, seem to qualify as “light” and poems that, one way or other, cross the problematic border into the general realm of poetry. The distinction cannot be clear-cut. The poet is consistently concerned with Man's cosmic embarrassment, and the same vision illuminates the creatures of “The High Hearts” and “Seagulls.” Science and religion, so frequently and variously invoked, frame a single paradox, the paradox of the mundane; and each poem, whether inspired by an antic headline or a suburban landscape, rejoices in the elusive surface of created things.

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Contents

BENDIX
3
IDYLL
16
BESTIARY
24
Copyright

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About the author (1963)

American novelist, poet, and critic John Updike was born in Reading, Pennsylvania on March 18, 1932. He received an A.B. degree from Harvard University, which he attended on a scholarship, in 1954. After graduation, he accepted a one-year fellowship to study painting at the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art in Oxford, England. After returning from England in 1955, he worked for two years on the staff of The New Yorker. This marked the beginning of a long relationship with the magazine, during which he has contributed numerous short stories, poems, and book reviews. Although Updike's first published book was a collection of verse, The Carpentered Hen and Other Tame Creatures (1958), his renown as a writer is based on his fiction, beginning with The Poorhouse Fair (1959). During his lifetime, he wrote more than 50 books and primarily focused on middle-class America and their major concerns---marriage, divorce, religion, materialism, and sex. Among his best-known works are the Rabbit tetrology---Rabbit, Run (1960), Rabbit Redux (1971), Rabbit Is Rich (1981), and Rabbit at Rest (1988). Rabbit, Run introduces Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom as a 26-year-old salesman of dime-store gadgets trapped in an unhappy marriage in a dismal Pennsylvania town, looking back wistfully on his days as a high school basketball star. Rabbit Redux takes up the story 10 years later, and Rabbit's relationship with representative figures of the 1960s enables Updike to provide social commentary in a story marked by mellow wisdom and compassion in spite of some shocking jolts. In Rabbit Is Rich, Harry is comfortably middle-aged and complacent, and much of the book seems to satirize the country-club set and the swinging sexual/social life of Rabbit and his friends. Finally, in Rabbit at Rest, Harry arrives at the age where he must confront his mortality. Updike won the Pulitzer Prize for both Rabbit Is Rich and Rabbit at Rest. Updike's other novels range widely in subject and locale, from The Poorhouse Fair, about a home for the aged that seems to be a microcosm for society as a whole, through The Court (1978), about a revolution in Africa, to The Witches of Eastwick (1984), in which Updike tries to write from inside the sensibilities of three witches in contemporary New England. The Centaur (1963) is a subtle, complicated allegorical novel that won Updike the National Book Award in 1964. In addition to his novels, Updike also has written short stories, poems, critical essays, and reviews. Self-Consciousness (1989) is a memoir of his early life, his thoughts on issues such as the Vietnam War, and his attitude toward religion. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1977. He died of lung cancer on January 27, 2009 at the age of 76.

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