Wednesday

Mar. 18, 2009

The Blessing

by John Updike

The room darkened, darkened until
our nakedness became a form of gray;
then the rain came bursting,
and we were sheltered, blessed,
upheld in a world of elements
that held us justified.
In all the love I had felt for you before,
in all that love,
there was no love
like that I felt when the rain began:
dim room, enveloping rush,
the slenderness of your throat,
the blessèd slenderness.

"The Blessing" by John Updike from Collected Poems. © Alfred A. Knopf, 1995. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of John Updike, (books by this author) born in Shillington, Pennsylvania (1932). He was an only child, and he said, "I'm sure that my capacity to fantasize and to make coherent fantasies, to have the patience to sit down day after day and to whittle a fantasy out of paper, all that relates to being an only child."

His father lost his job during the Great Depression, and the family moved into a farm house 11 miles out of town. So Updike spent much of his childhood alone, reading or living in a dream world. He read The New Yorker magazine every week, and while he was still in high school, he began sending his cartoons, poems, and stories to The New Yorker. Even though everything was rejected, he kept submitting to them. He won a scholarship to Harvard, and when he was a senior, The New Yorker finally accepted his work, and after he graduated the magazine offered him a job.

But he didn't enjoy living in New York City, and he realized that he was a small-town boy. So he moved with his wife to a small town outside of Boston, and he supported his family by writing short stories about middle-class, white Protestant families. He said that his early stories "were written on a manual typewriter ... in a one-room office ... between a lawyer and a beautician, above a cozy corner restaurant. ... My only duty was to describe reality as it had come to me — to give the mundane its beautiful due."

He wrote in detail about the love lives of his characters. Other writers, like Henry Miller or D.H. Lawrence, had written explicitly about sex, but they wrote mostly about bohemian characters. Updike wrote about the sex lives of ordinary suburban Americans.

His novels got mixed reviews — many critics objected to the explicit sexual descriptions. He said: "The artistic challenge to me, as I saw it in the late '50s and mid-'60s, was to try to describe sex honestly as a human transaction, as a human event, and try to place it on the continuum of the personality, to write about it freely but not necessarily as an endorsement of sex. I don't think sex really needs an endorsement."

He published more than 20 novels, and more than 20 collections of short stories. He is best known for his Rabbit books: Rabbit, Run (1960), Rabbit Redux (1971), Rabbit Is Rich (1981), and Rabbit at Rest (1990). Rabbit is Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom, a former high school basketball star who becomes a used car salesman.

John Updike died just a couple of months ago from lung cancer, on January 27, 2009. He was 76 years old.

It's the birthday of George Plimpton, (books by this author) born in New York City (1927). He founded the literary magazine The Paris Review. And he wrote more than 30 books, many of them about his adventures in professional sports: Out of My League (1961), Paper Lion (1966), and others.

It's the birthday of poet Michael Harper, (books by this author) born in Brooklyn, New York (1938). He was the son of a postal worker, and when he was eight years old his African-American family moved to a white neighborhood in Los Angeles, which he said was traumatizing enough to turn him into a writer. After college, he went to the Iowa Writers' Workshop. His first collection of poems was Dear John, Dear Coltrane (1970).

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®

 









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