John Updike   Collected Poems, 1953-1993.
Knopf, 357 pages, $27.50

reviewed by X. J. Kennedy

“Herman has taken to writing poetry,” Melville’s wife wrote to her mother in 1859. “You need not tell anyone, for you know how such things get around.” To this day, the name of poet in America, unlike the name of novelist, has proved at times a dangerous liability. Yet John Updike has never fully accepted the security of his reputation as a writer of fiction. With The Carpentered Hen of 1958, he began his writing career as a light versifier. Over a span of forty years he has printed 135 poems in The New Yorker and scores elsewhere; he has produced four further collections of poetry and, at last, this omnium gathering.

Now, with an air of apology—the poems are “my oeuvre’s beloved waifs”—Updike assembles all that he would...

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