In earlier years, John Updike's poetry often was referred to as "light verse" -- a term that also could be applied to humorous poets such as Ogden Nash. Even then, however, Updike's subject matter and style frequently transcended that label. Yes, his poems could be quite witty, but with subject matter ranging from youthful carnality to the corruptions of middle age and beyond, his was verse meant to be taken seriously, even if you were smiling as you read it.
It turns out, though, that Updike had a lot of growing to do as a poet. Contrast this with his arc as a novelist: His first, "The Poorhouse Fair," seemed a bit unsure of itself, but his second, "Rabbit, Run," was extraordinarily accomplished -- and it was published in 1960, when Updike still was in his 20s. Certainly, Updike has grown as a novelist, but his development as a poet has been far more dramatic. Compare, if you will, the frothy ebullience of "The Carpentered Hen" or "Telephone Poles," two early verse collections, with the more tempered and more formal "Americana," and you will see that Updike's journey has been remarkable.
This volume has Updike spinning poetic yarns about mortality, about travel, and about the raveling and unraveling of the human body with all its frailties. The work here is quite beautiful, yet in beauty there can be much heartbreak, and Updike is not afraid to explore it.
Updike also has turned more and more to formal verse as he has aged; this volume offers quite a number of sonnets, and they are very good indeed. I don't mean to disparage his older efforts in free verse, but his command of language and form here is quite impressive.
I highly recommend "Americana," especially for fans of Updike's novels who may not be very comfortable reading poetry. Updike's verse is accessible but does not pander.