John Updike (1932-2009) delighted us during his lifetime with the variety of his gifts—as novelist, literary critic, poet, and also as a keen commentator on the art scene. In the fall, Always Looking: Essays on Art, appeared, collecting his final considerations of certain highlights of Western art over the last two hundred years—from the landscapes of Frederic Edwin Church to the steely sculptural worlds of Richard Serra, from the extravagances of Klimt to the Pop of Oldenburg and Lichtenstein. Today’s poem brings us this American master of word and image reflecting on the trajectory of the Dutch painter Piet Mondrian.
How strange to see an arrow-straight career!
Trees, the attempt to do the branches justice
in honest Dutch style, led him, twig by twig,
into the net of the rectilinear,
of crosses and dashes and then thick frames
for colors prime and pure as chalice jewels,
panels of heaven blazing between girders;
he believed the world could be sublimated.
Things and scenes no longer troubled him;
a square tipped onto its corner was all
he needed grant the cockeyed real until
Manhattan greeted his exile with jazz,
with boogie-woogie and a grid of streets
that proved his dream to be (bull’s-eye!) the fact.
Excerpt from AMERICANA © John Updike 2001. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc., New York. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.< To share the poem-a-day experience with friends, pass along this link >>