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.
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.
Inside were eight poems by Hofmann.
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.
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….
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.