Michael Hofmann

...has a great essay on Lowell in the recent London Review of Books , "His Own Prophet" (11 Sep 2003):

"Working from prose, and a compatibility with prose--the copious vocabulary, the full sentences, the endless array of construction, the spry, pluperfect diction, the willingness to quote or invent speech and to describe at length, the effort to set scenes and tell stories--are things that characterize Lowell pretty much throughout. The proximity to prose, and the continual revising--though the two are almost opposites; when was the last time you were offered a 'revised and expanded' novel?--together argue an almost avant-garde or experimental tenacity in Lowell. It is a stranger and more distinctive project than is generally believed."

"Poetry has lost so much ground in the years since Lowell started out in it, it's easy to feel a somewhat preposterous sympathy for him. There is nothing at the end of the rainbow. In Lowell's 'mid-century', poetry still belonged in every well-stocked library and mind. There's little reason to read it anymore--though apparently the Queen manages a book a year. Poetry in America has declined to a civil war, a banal derby between two awful teams, and in Britain to a variety show (a royal variety show). The last apotheosised poets are the generation of the 1910s and 1920s, Eliot and Frost and Stevens and Pound and Yeats and Bunting. They have had no successors, or the succession has not been allowed."


I don't share Hofmann's regret for lost days. Besides, global apocalypse, the current rise of neo-fascism, this ludicrous endless war the US is entangled in, and the collapse of the planet's ecological system make laments for a past poetry irrelevant to me.

However, one of the best nights I can remember in recent years was taking the T down Commonwealth Ave last year to see Hofmann read his poems in a small room at BU. Ever since coming across his Approximately Nowhere (Faber, 1999) when it came out, I've been an assiduous reader of his work. I enjoy his Mexico poems in Corona, Corona and his Nights in the Iron Hotel is brilliant. I can relate to his use of an English that is supplemented (or undermined) by another language, in his case German. I've seen him lecture on translation as well. On both occasions Hofmann was humble and generous with the audience, reading with us rather than at or for us. At the reading last year, he seemed to become bored with his poems and asked if anyone had any requests before he stopped. I mentioned his poem "XXXX", which begins with a an epigraph from Cesar Vallejo, just so I could hear him read the last stanza:

"I'm quarrelsome, charming, lustful, inconsolable, broken.
I have the radio on as much as ever my father did,
carrying it with me from room to room.
I like its level talk."

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