Book Beat August 08 2001 (1)

Louise Gluck
The Seven Ages
??Harper Collins, $23

John Updike
Americana and other poems

This summer, three fine new books of poetry are making magic as familiar as the lambent glow of twilight.

Seamus Heaney’s Electric Light is this Nobel master’s return to original verse after the astonishing success of his Beowulf translation, Heaney’s perfect modulation into the primordial rhythms that seemed to inhabit his graceful imagery and irrepressibly musical lines.

Obversely, Electric Light consists of rather serious, responsible experiments in metaphor that engage the hard facts of imaginative experience with precisely the tilt of credulity that makes his world turn in upon itself and unfold as a blossom in rain.

Louise Glück’s new book, The Seven Ages has the surprising virtue of containing poems with as much sensory immediacy and psychological complexity as her challenging marvel Vita Nova. No one writes about postmodern romance with as much courage or resourcefulness.

Glück’s gift for investigating the nature and causes of tragedy does not keep her from executing gestures of pastoral reinvention that seem at once to recall grade-school recitation and to anticipate new worlds.

Finally, John Updike, emerging from a swirl of publishing events this past year, gives us notice that while he does still write the occasional poem, he is not a man of the poetic form, but of the poetic mind. His collection Americana is a mélange of these poetic diversions since 1993. The title poem represents a distinguished contribution to the growing corpus of long American poems. But the rest constitute a catalog of marginalia to which has generously committed some of his spare time as a novelist, expanding them into artifacts of quasi-luminescence, making them — for a few lines — longer, stranger and more lovely than they really are.

-- Scott Wilkerson