|Published March 2009|
John Updike said that his writing career began in 1954 when the New Yorker accepted one of his poems. However, most of us think of Updike as a novelist. After all, he won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction twice- Rabbit is Rich (1981) and Rabbit at Rest (1991). He also won the National Book Critics Circle Award and the National Book Award for fiction. I didn't expect much from Endpoint and Other Poems. But, I was curious how the iconic writer summarized his final days via this posthumous volume of poetry. The "Endpoint" poems were written during the last years of his life. These are the best poems in the collection, they are thoughtful and poignant. One of those poems, "Oblong Ghost 11/6/08," reminded me that the world outside stops for no one regardless of one's own personal crisis.
Oblong Ghost 11/6/08
A wakeup call? It seems that death has found
the portals it will enter by: my lungs,
pathetic oblong ghosts, one paler than
the other on the doctor’s viewing screen.
Looking up “pneumonia,” I learn
it can, like an erratic dog, turn mean
and snap life short for someone under two
or “very old (over 75).”
Meanwhile, our President Obama waits
downstairs to be unwrapped and I, a child
transposed toward Christmas Day in Shillington—
air soft and bright, a touch of snow outside—
pause here, one hand upon the bannister,
and breathe the scent of fresh-cut evergreens.
The "Other" poems in this collection are a mixed bag; yet, the melancholy is constant throughout. I liked this book much more than I thought I would. Endpoint and Other Poems opened me up to another side of Updike. It has motived me to explore more of his fiction, essays and criticism. Updike was more than just a great novelist, and I find it ironic (or maybe it was by design?) that his career began and ended with poetry.