John Updike’s Endpoint and Other Poems was published posthumously last year, after a long and stellar writing career. Some of these poems were written in the last year of his life, some even in the last month.
The volume is divided into four sections: “Endpoint,” a series of birthday poems he wrote for himself between 2002 and 2008, along with poems written in the hospital as he was dying; “Other Poems,” an eclectic group whose subjects range from stolen paintings and singer Frankie Lane to doo wop and an elegy for golfer Payne Stewart; “Sonnets,” which cover music, places and people both real and imagined; and “Light and Personal,” which include poems on country music and his wife on her birthday.
A selection from the birthday poem for 2008, “Spirit of ’76,” written in Tucson, Arizona, gives a sense of the “Endpoint” poems:
Here in this place of arid clarity,
two thousand miles from my souvenirs
collect a cozy dust, the piled produce
of bald ambition pulling ignorama,
I see clear through to the ultimate page,
the silence I dared break for my small time.
No piece was easy, but each fell finished,
in its shroud of print, into a book-shaped hole.
And from “Baseball:”
…football can be learned,
and basketball finessed, but
there is no hiding from baseball
the fact that some are chosen
and some are not…
There is something of self-indulgence about many of these poems. But in the last years of Updike’s life, with the body of fiction, essays, articles, poetry and even movie reviews he left behind, self-indulgence can be forgiven.
Endpoint and Other Poems is the work of old age, when confidence and reputation is not something to be achieved and accomplished but simply enjoyed. And I think John Updike enjoyed writing these poems.