Have been luxuriating with two books relating to poetry over the last few weeks: John Updike's collection Americana and other Poems
and Helen Vendler's Dickinson Selected Poems and Commentaries
First the Updike. Here is a taste:http://www.moma.org/collection_images/r ... 151245.jpg
Before the Mirror
John Updike (1996)
How many of us still remember
when Picasso’s “Girl Before a Mirror” hung
at the turning of the stairs in the pre-
expansion Museum of Modern Art?
Millions of us, probably, but we form
a dwindling population. Garish
and brush-slashed and yet as balanced
as a cardboard Queen in a deck of giant cards,
the painting proclaimed, “Enter here
and abandon preconception.” She bounced
the erotic balls of herself back and forth
between reflection and reality.
Now I discover, in the recent re-
trospective at the establishment,
that the vivid painting dates
from March of 1932,
the very month which I first saw light,
squinting nostalgia for the womb.
I bend closer, inspecting. The blacks,
the stripy cyanide greens are still uncracked,
I note with satisfaction; the cherry reds
and lemon yellows full of childish juice.
No sag, no wrinkle. Fresh as paint. Back then
they knew how, I reflect, to lay it on.
This one in particular has been hanging in my head as I too start to view the aging process with keener eyes. And it is the keenest of eyes that Updike deploys in this book. To look at the world as he did and then to be able to report back in these wonderful poems is a most monumental skill. It is sheer fun to follow him as he casts backwards upon his childhood, his travels, his aging and the mundane aspects of daily life. There is a long poem, "Song of Myself" that deserves to be anthologized. This book shows him a master of meter, stanzas and of rhyme. It is also a premonition nearly ten years prior to his death of his reluctance to quit the living textures of this world. God, I miss opening my weekly New Yorker and being pleasantly surprised by yet another new verse from him, let alone a story or essay.
Helen Vendler, as is customary, has yet again opened my eyes to a strong poet, in this case Emily Dickinson. I have been a reader of both my entire adult life and they make a wonderful pair- Emily with her densely knotted sprung lines and Helen with her acute close reading alive to all implications within a text. Her subtlety in reading is to be treasured. She makes a poet whom I assume we all have an acquaintance with come alive on the page with her intuitive readings of Dickinson's unique imagination and linguistic invention. This is a book to treasure and hand down to daughter's. Something I intend to do.
"....there's a merry song that starts in 'I' and ends in 'You', as many famous pop songs do....'