On the trail of a book purchase

What made me:

  • re-read a book I already had?
  • buy a book?
  • take a book out of the library?

It started with this newspaper article, an interview in The Guardian with poet, critic and translator Michael Hofmann.

Hofmann Guardian

I tend to buy The Guardian on a Saturday but I hadn’t read the article until I noticed several people – in fact, lots of people –  tweeting about it.  So I also read it and I really liked this particular comment about translation.

Following my tweet there were some lively conversations and friendly exchanges of opinion about several of the ideas expressed in the article.  I won’t go into those here but, by now, my interest in Michael Hofmann was piqued.

Confession time.  I had never heard of Michael Hofmann.

But this isn’t a blogpost about my ignorance, it’s about book-reading, buying and borrowing habits – well, mine, at least.

How come I’ve never heard of him or read him? I asked myself.  Or have I? I added, lightly tripping downstairs (I was several hours into my pyjamas by now) to my bookcase where……

aha! I found this anthology, The New Poetry (Bloodaxe Books) on the  first year reading list for my English degree at West Sussex Institute of Higher Education (now Chichester University) in 1993.

The New Poetry

Inside were eight poems by Hofmann.

Hofmann inside Poetry anthology

I must admit, I wasn’t as blown away or as excited by Hofmann’s poetry as I’d noticed a few other people were/are (or so I was learning as his name kept cropping up on social media).  In fact, there were a couple of other poems in the anthology which really caught my eye, one being Crinkle, near Birr by Paul Durcan (again, not someone I’m over-familiar with, so time to read more of him, as well) which seems to me a wonderful poem about a father/son relationship (a key theme of Hofmann’s work, I’m learning) and the other  is The Vanishing Point by Maggie Hannan which, by coincidence, was mentioned in this tweet only the day before yesterday.

I agree, Charles, but, back to Hofmann.

Charles Boyle, publisher, replied to my tweet with a link to a book of essays, poems and ‘reflections’ on Michael Hofmann which he’d published in 2013.

and I was tempted enough to buy the book.

The Palm Beach Effect

I’m dipping in and out of the book and some of the essays read more like fan letters – quite off-putting when you’re not familiar with the work in question –  but I’ve been very taken with the late Dennis O’Driscoll’s essay, Saying What Happened: Michael Hofmann and Confessional Poetry.  Here’s a short extract

No contemporary poet, and certainly no poet of his generation, has employed the confessional mode with greater flair, éclat, originality and control than Michael Hofmann.  He has reshaped and reimagined this overheated genre, lending it a new lease of life by counter-intuitively shifting its focus from calculated sensation and shameless self-revelation to a vehicle for dispassionate truth: a tool as sharp, cool and unforgiving as a scalpel blade.  In this, he brings to mind the self-portraits of Lucian Freud…..

It was O’Driscoll’s mention of Hofmann’s ‘confessional’ poems, and, in particular, the ‘My Father’s House’ poems in Hofmann’s second collection Acrimony, cited by several of The Palm Beach Effect‘s essayists (including O’Driscoll and Tessa Hadley) as Hofmann’s best book, which gave me an appetite for more poems.  So, on Saturday morning, I headed to Trowbridge Library and found….

Hofmann in the Library

Perhaps this would have been the best place to start, in retrospect.  Start with poems, stupid.   I’ve got there in the end and I have three weeks before I risk a fine.  So, excuse me while I get back to reading.

I’d love to hear what makes you buy/re-read/borrow a book, poetry or otherwise.


6 thoughts on “On the trail of a book purchase”

  1. Thanks for a really interesting blog post, Josephine. I like hearing about other writers’ reading habits. The more time I spend online, the more time I spend – well, reading, as there are so, so many links to explore. I’d say that most of the poetry books on my shelves have been purchased as the result of reading a review or an article, a poem or poems – either online or in a poetry magazine. I love discovering new poets that way, even if that also shows me that, the more I read, the more I realise I should have read. My latest ‘loves’ are Esther Morgan and Hilary Menos. Here’s to more discoveries! Happy reading 🙂 x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Each year I grow closer to never reading everything! It’s impossible. I was delighted to find the Hofmann book in my local library – even better would have been the individual collections but that would’ve been asking a lot. I really liked Esther Morgan’s ‘Grace’ but I haven’t read Hilary Menos! Thanks for a lovely comment 🙂 x

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This is absolutely my kind of blog entry! I just love the way one thing leads to another, and your record of the trail. Also I’m hugely impressed that your treasure hunt led you towards the act (or several acts) of reading. In fact, your account is a wonderful illustration of how we learn, joyously, by chasing one lead after another. Mine often lead me towards buying or otherwise acquiring more and more books without actually reading them, and the pile gets higher until I’m completely intimidated by it. In fact, sometimes that’s why I love to read just one poem. A whole book of them (this is a terrible confession) frequently defeats me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for these kind words, Nell, and I’m so glad you liked the post! I like to think that I WILL, one day, get around to reading all the books I’ve ever bought. I was so delighted to find Hofmann in my local library, as well.:-) x


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