John Updike died this week.
Love his work or or hate it (and I've done both, depending on the book), he was an incredible craftsman. Listen to this, from the above NYT obituary:
He wrote about America with boundless curiosity and wit in prose so careful and attentive that it burnished the ordinary with a painterly gleam.The article continues:
Here he is in “A Sense of Shelter,” an early short story:
“Snow fell against the high school all day, wet big-flake snow that did not accumulate well. Sharpening two pencils, William looked down on a parking lot that was a blackboard in reverse; car tires had cut smooth arcs of black into the white, and wherever a school bus had backed around, it had left an autocratic signature of two V’s.”
The detail of his writing was so rich that it inspired two schools of thought on Mr. Updike’s fiction: those who responded to his descriptive prose as to a kind of poetry, a sensuous engagement with the world, and those who argued that it was more style than content.
Oh, but sometimes his style was enough.
Which actually goes against the grain, in general, of what I believe about art and what makes art worthwhile. It has to have content, meaning. Some inherent value that is more than just beauty on display.
But, oh ... sometimes his style was enough.
Both as a poet and as a novelist, Updike wrote about the glory days of the high school athlete, and of that athlete's later life. Rabbit Angstrom is one of the saddest characters in all of American fiction.
And, Rabbit seems to have had first stirrings in "Flick" -- here's a snippet of Ex Basketball Player, a poem written in 1954:
Once Flick played for the high-school team, the Wizards.
He was good: in fact, the best. In ’46
He bucketed three hundred ninety points,
A county record still. The ball loved Flick.
I saw him rack up thirty-eight or fortyIn one home game. His hands were like wild birds
Read the rest of it here.
And read more about it here, in this short interview, Inside Game, at the Poetry Foundation, in which Updike calls poetry, "the exercise of language at its highest pitch."
Oh, yes. Sometimes his style was enough.
Call me weak.
Poetry Friday is being hosted today at Adventures in Daily Living.