Friday, September 28, 2007

Poetry Friday: A helpful alphabet of friendly objects

I came across this little book while weeding the Easy Nonfiction last week and thought to myself:

John Updike is of course a well-known and heavily honored American novelist, critic, poet, etc. specializing in the mundane lives of suburban American middle-class Protestant men. I confess to not having much interest in Updike's novels (having tried to avoid suburban American middle-class men pretty much right up until I married one), the exception being the sort of trashy Witches of Eastwick, which I read in high school and portions of which I still remember.

He has never struck me as a particularly kid-loving type, all that infidelity and tweed, I guess. But the title alone: "A helpful alphabet of friendly objects," with its double dose of supportive adjectives, encouraged me to peer inside.

Written in 1995, A helpful alphabet of friendly objects is a collection of 26 short poems by John Updike, illustrated with photographs by Updike's son, David. Many of the pictures are of Updike's grandkids and their cousins. Even if it were nothing more than a short little album of this multicultural bohemian family, their pets and rugs and toys, the book would elicit a smile. But I read it out loud to Mr. Four this afternoon, and even as I enjoyed the Buckaroo Banzai philosophy of:
Who's that in there?
He peeks, he grins,
his bright-eyed stare
(or hers) begins
to remind you of
that somebody who
is everywhere
where you are too.

Mr Four laughed out loud at:
At evening
when the grass is dewy
out hops the rabbit,
feeling chewy.

Plus, on the page for S ("shoes and socks"), Four noticed the similarity between the kid's Hanna Anderssen striped socks and the Hanna Anderssen striped t-shirt he calls his "cold running shirt." There are lots of little cultural signifiers like that in these photos.

My library's copy of this book, shelved as it is in the unappreciated outer reaches of E 811, has circulated maybe a total of ten times in 12 years. The book itself is out of print. But I would encourage anyone to pick it up if you ever come across it. John Updike's kid poetry isn't flashy, and some of it is a little anachronistic, but it is pleasing, and clever, and we liked it.
Along the curb you see them,
round and shiny; some
show you you, reflected,
stretched sideways like gum.