Michael Hofmann

Michael Hofmann’s most recent collection, One Lark, One Horse, is published by Faber.

Chiantishire: Shirley Hazzard

Michael Hofmann, 6 May 2021

ShirleyHazzard was born in 1931 in Australia, the daughter of immigrants from Scotland and Wales. Both her parents, it’s said, were involved in the construction of Sydney Harbour Bridge. She went on to live on three other continents: Asia, Europe and North America. As is sometimes the way with writers whose biographies are yet to be written (Brigitta Olubas is on the case),...

Poem: ‘H.H., 95’

Michael Hofmann, 4 March 2021

An anemometer tiptoesin a nothing breeze. Allez, circulez.Three eggcups sidewise.

A beech hedge shieldsthe ugly new development from sight.An ankle thicker than a thigh.

‘It’s all ascesis, from here on in.’A drip from the upstairs balcony(the surplus from their geraniums)

convulses her potted lemon,industrious thrushes turn overevery dry leaf in the shrubbery,

looking for God...

Slashed, Red and Dead: Rilke, To Me

Michael Hofmann, 21 January 2021

One​ doesn’t think of Rainer Maria Rilke writing poems on subjects that might otherwise appear in newspapers and books of social history – on anything like emigration or poverty or unemployment. Even by the standard of unworldly poets, he is like one of those cabinet ministers who doesn’t know the price of milk. To some extent, this is a misapprehension. An early book of...

Not in Spanish: Bilingualism

Michael Hofmann, 21 May 2020

Thisis the first and only book on bilingualism I have read, but before coming to that there are two other things worthy of mention.* The first is the author’s biographical note. Albert Costa, a research professor at Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona who specialised in neurocognition and language processing, died in 2018, at the age of 48. The second is the single modest line on...

On Lawrence Joseph

Michael Hofmann, 19 March 2020

Ifit answers to now, if it’s sufficiently fearless and adaptable and capacious, why not write the same poem again and again – in couplets, in slabs, in measured stanzas, in irregular numbered parts, in plump quatrains? Why not saturate the thing with fact, with horror, with beauty, with violence, with throwaway colloquial titles, with smeary cut-up technique? With the poem...

A Word Like a Bullet: Heinrich Böll

Michael Hofmann, 18 July 2019

Heinrich Böll​ was born in 1917, awarded the Nobel Prize in 1972 (the first German writer thus honoured since Thomas Mann in 1929 – Hermann Hesse having adopted Swiss citizenship, and Nelly Sachs Swedish) and died in 1985. He was an early instance, an avatar, of the writer as right thinker, as influencer, like Rushdie, like Solzhenitsyn, like Pasolini: his was the public leftish...

At the Orangerie: Marc and Macke

Michael Hofmann, 20 June 2019

In​ an essay entitled ‘Twenty Minutes from before the War’, Joseph Roth describes how in the 1920s French cinema audiences (and no doubt others elsewhere in Europe) lapped up compilations of pre-1914 documentary footage. They watched endless shots of military parades and goosenecked beauties with hats and fans and all-day hairstyles and floor-length dresses and gentlemen in full...

On Luljeta Lleshanaku: Luljeta Lleshanaku

Michael Hofmann, 4 April 2019

Luljeta Lleshanaku​ is an Albanian poet, born in Elbasan in 1968. Following the death of Enver Hoxha in 1985 and the end of dictatorship in Albania in 1990, she was belatedly allowed to attend university, and has worked – multitasking, in the manner of gifted people in small populations – as a teacher, magazine editor, journalist and screenwriter. Currently she is research...

Call it magnificence: Antonio Muñoz Molina

Michael Hofmann, 20 December 2018

Ten years ago​, I wrote a review of an earlier book by the Spanish writer Antonio Muñoz Molina, Sepharad. The review was spiked, and I don’t have it, or the book, or much memory of the book. Of course, this one may be spiked as well, but I’ve now read Like a Fading Shadow four times, and I can see it will be one of a handful of books I open and start reading –...

At One with the Universe: Emil Nolde

Michael Hofmann, 27 September 2018

Imagine​ a Nolde picture, and what do you see? Perhaps a flat, brooding landscape, nine-tenths sky, with maybe a windmill or a hulking farmhouse sunk along the bottom edge. Deep lustrous colours – oils, unmixed, swirly and thick – within a wide and solid matt-black wood frame. (Nolde made them himself: he had no use for the ornate plaster gilt of a backward-looking early 20th...

Two Poems

Michael Hofmann, 30 August 2018

Old Mexico

They can’t get enough of the indecent toy skeletons in copulo every which way, the perpetual action heroes, the cast-off clothes with writing on them, the mufla

and vulcanizadora shops, the girls in bathtub jeans from no label they ever heard of, no film without Schwarzenegger or Willis, wrought iron and tin mirrors, sad tenor crooners

over brass, caja de ahorros...

‘So​ I have sailed the seas and come … to B … a small town fastened to a field in Indiana,’ the late, great William Gass began his imperishable short story ‘In the Heart of the Heart of the Country’, from 1968. Or, with his and your permission, ‘I have sailed the seas and come … to G … a healthcare mecca and football burg that was...

Out of Babel: Thomas Bernhard Traduced

Michael Hofmann, 14 December 2017

The​ posthumous progress in English of the Austrian writer Thomas Bernhard (1931-89) is marked by deaths: those of his majoritarian and minoritarian translators David McLintock and Ewald Osers, in 2003 and 2011 respectively; and in 2015 that of Carol Brown Janeway, his publisher at Knopf, his unlikely champion over decades (because, for all his influence and cultishness, Bernhard in English...

Alphabetophile: Eley Williams

Michael Hofmann, 7 September 2017

Before​ I embarked on Eley Williams, of whom I had read nothing and knew nothing, I flipped through Attrib., her first book of stories. Even on first flip, I got a sense of something I sometimes find in things I like and that seem good to me, something that subliminally distinguishes writing that is careful and alive: a kind of alphabetical justice, to give this sheepish and probably...

Two Poems

Michael Hofmann, 27 July 2017


for my mother

A plaster – piece of sticking plaster – on the wall Where the doorknob of the cold-water bathroom door might hit. Has hit. A bruise in the other kind of plaster, a dent. Mend and make do. Guest bathroom, if you will.

It never gets any better; just an embarrassing display of solicitude. A naked concern with wear, like mylar or antimacassar....

Après-Mao: Yiyun Li

Michael Hofmann, 15 June 2017

There​ are a few facts and dates. I would like to do without them, or fiddle with them, in the sense that the person they govern is a great writer, and would have been a great writer without them, and so mocks, like Homer of the seven birthplaces, the confining clutch of circumstance, but I can’t. So, take them as they are. Yiyun Li was born in 1973 in Beijing. In 1996, she left for...

At the Met: Beckmann in New York

Michael Hofmann, 16 February 2017

On​ 27 December 1950, 66 years ago, at the age of 66, the German émigré painter Max Beckmann suffered a heart attack and died on the corner of Central Park West and 69th Street, where for the past eight months he had rented a small apartment and a studio. He had been on his way across the park to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, to view the latest (and last) of his...

Snap among the Witherlings: Wallace Stevens

Michael Hofmann, 22 September 2016

To think about Stevens’s life, or Stevens from the perspective of his life, is to be told that your bird of paradise, your parrot or your quetzal, is actually a pigeon or a Farmer Matthews turkey. Nothing in writing has the full-on charm of early Stevens, the abundance of colours and scents and sounds, the musical instruments and fruit, and – oh, just the abundance of abundance. He has the nattiest titles, the most full-throated ejaculations (the ‘Pardie!’ and ‘quotha’ and ‘Ti-lill-o’, the ‘Tum-ti-tum,/Ti-tum-tum-tum!’ and the ‘Ohoyaho,/Ohoo’), the wildest cast of characters, the most beguiling locations.

I have​ a sort of moral-aesthetic compass rose I like to play with. The designations are approximate and subject to change, but for now they go like this: North-South is the axis of simplicity; East-West that of pleasure. The North is spare, the South proliferative; the West bland, the East astringent … Well, for something so simple and seemingly arbitrary, there is probably more...

Muted Ragu Tones: David Szalay

Michael Hofmann, 21 April 2016

It’s possible​ that the expression ‘tearing through a book’ has something to answer for. I read All That Man Is at a not particularly expedient time, furiously, unappeasably, in two days. Then I bought and read in a similar manner – none took me any longer than two days – David Szalay’s three previous novels: London and the South-East (one of the great...

Poem: ‘Forgetfulness’

Michael Hofmann, 18 February 2016

for Fred

‘Empiricism’ has been gone far more often than not; I think I originally learned it in my teens. Now I sometimes find it by alphabetising, but most of the time it’s gone and stays gone. I don’t know if I dislike it because I can’t remember it, or I can’t remember it because I dislike it. It’s as though it’s on permanent loan somewhere....

Short Cuts: Unknown Laws

Franz Kafka, translated by Michael Hofmann, 16 July 2015

Our laws​ are unfortunately not widely known, they are the closely guarded secret of the small group of nobles who govern us. We like to believe that these old laws are scrupulously adhered to, but it remains a vexing thing to be governed by laws one does not know. I am not thinking here of various questions of interpretation and the disadvantages that stem from only a few individuals and...

Stalin is a joker: Milan Kundera

Michael Hofmann, 2 July 2015

Younger readers​ – how I’ve dreamed of beginning a review with those snitty Amis/Waugh-type words – will need reminding that in the 1970s and 1980s there was no getting round the French-Bohemian (actually Moravian) novelist Milan Kundera, who was to those decades what Sebald and Knausgaard were to be for those following. There was about these authors something chic and...

A Big Life: Seamus Heaney

Michael Hofmann, 4 June 2015

Robert Lowell​ has a poem called ‘Picture in The Literary Life, a Scrapbook’ which begins:

A mag photo, I before I was I, or my books – a listener … A cheekbone gumballs out my cheek; too much live hair.

Not knowing the photo of Lowell, I go instead to the picture of Seamus Heaney on the front of the companion volume to this one, New Selected Poems 1966-87, painfully...

Poem: ‘Derrick’

Michael Hofmann, 19 February 2015

That rather sprawling foursquare spelling. Always in my mind half- associated with the hirsute 14-year-old I saw in the newspaper who sued his local

education authority to keep his beard from a sort of medical necessity. My neighbour took up residence next to this youth in my head. Derrick.

Clean-shaven, Welsh, heavyset, lugubrious, his steel-grey hair apparently parted by a steel comb....

It’s May or June, the Cam is stuffed with expensive punts, which in turn are stuffed with moneyed tourists. A bunch of under-employed post-examinal students are dementedly heaving and levering away at one of the massive ornamental granite balls crowning the parapet of one of the college bridges. They’ve prised it loose, the entire river – the strollers and dawdlers and smoochers along the Backs, the rest of the shipping – seems to be watching in horror as it’s directly threatening a punt-load of Japanese tourists.

I read The Zone of Interest straight through twice from beginning to end and it feels like I’ve read nothing at all. I could read it again, if I thought it would make any difference. Perhaps in some strange way it’s a compliment to the book – this love story set among Germans in Auschwitz: good idea? waiting world? story whose time has come? yes? – or to its calculation, its finely calibrated scales, that what survives of it is (pace Larkin) nothing. That nothing finally preponderates, no sensation remains, no vision, no synthesis, no understanding.

All Fresh Today: Karen Solie

Michael Hofmann, 3 April 2014

Introducing Karen Solie, I would adapt what Joseph Brodsky said some thirty years ago of the great Les Murray: ‘It would be as myopic to regard Mr Murray as an Australian poet as to call Yeats an Irishman. He is, quite simply, the one by whom the language lives.’ Solie is Canadian (born in 1966, in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, of Norwegian immigrant stock), the author of three...

Imagine Tintin: Basil Bunting

Michael Hofmann, 9 January 2014

Just as some faces are a gift to the photographer (Artaud, Patti Smith), so certain lives are a gift to the biographer. These are, broadly, of two types: the hard and gemlike, abbreviated, compressed, intense; and the lengthy, implausible, exfoliated, whiskery, picaresque. Vehement or even violent emotion is good, overt drama, prominent contacts or associations, sudden changes of...

Mostly Middle: Elizabeth Bishop

Michael Hofmann, 8 September 2011

It is John Ashbery who takes the cake – in this case, the triple-decker cake with the solitary little sugar bride on top – for his description of Elizabeth Bishop: she is ‘the poets’ poets’ poet’. It sounds farcical, but it’s strictly true, and there’s as little getting round it as there is improving on it. As I begin, therefore, I feel stirrings...

Reger said: Thomas Bernhard

Michael Hofmann, 4 November 2010

The Austrian novelist and playwright Thomas Bernhard (1931-89) once said: ‘You have to understand that in my writing the musical component comes first, and the subject matter is secondary.’ It’s a strange thing for this professional controversialist and Austropathic ranter to have said – that we should attend to the form, balance and measure in his work, when everything in it would seem to lead to the giggle and gasp of hurt given or received, or the hush and squeal of scandal – but it is sound advice. Before we talk about the quality of the opinions, or the kilotonnage of the diatribes, or the relentlessness of the assault (is anything exempt?), we ought to talk about the patterns of repetition and variation in the unspooling sentences of the unparagraphed prose. If Bernhard is anything, he is a stuck harpsichord record, knocking out its trapped and staggered shards of shrilly hammered phrases.

Five Poems

Günter Eich, translated by Michael Hofmann, 25 March 2010

Examine Your Fingertips

Examine your fingertips for signs of discolouration!

One day it will be back, the supposedly eradicated contagion. The postman will drop it in the rattling letterbox along with the...

Vermicular Dither

Michael Hofmann, 28 January 2010

Romain Rolland, one of Stefan Zweig’s many illustrious friends (he seems not to have had any other kind), expressed surprise that he could be a writer and not like cats: ‘Un poète qui n’aime pas les chats!’ It’s only one of an unending series of things – as if the man did not have a shadow – that strike one as being ‘not quite right’ about this popular-again populariser who, like the Kitschmeister Gustav Klimt, is glitteringly and preposterously back in fashion, and neither of them any better than they were the first time round.

Hofmannsthal’s is a reputation in abeyance, and I am content that it should be so. There is a limit to how far it can fall – though in the English Sprachraum it was perhaps never all that high in the first place – because of ‘The Lord Chandos Letter’, the tiny but freakishly important story of 1902, the wonderful-but-never-seen play, Der Schwierige, a swansong of...

Poem: ‘Letter from Australia’

Michael Hofmann, 9 October 2008

to Ralph Savarese

The early worm gets the bird – it’s morning in Australia. It’s strange to be so bilious so far away.

Little to do with Australia, which so far as I can see seems mostly delightful: airy pastel buildings and trees I can’t name.

There is some peculation among the local pols, mainly relegated to the business section: a few million hectares rightly or...

Reading with No Clothes on: Guernsey’s Bard

Michael Hofmann, 24 January 2008

With the slush pile now going the way of the ice-cap, G.B. Edwards’s miraculous novel The Book of Ebenezer Le Page is one more instance – beyond the usually trotted out Lord of the Flies by William Golding, who was an admirer – of why that might be a pity, and why, ice-caps permitting, we might come to regret it.

Gerald Basil Edwards was born on Guernsey in 1899 and died in...

Two Poems

Michael Hofmann, 13 December 2007

Cooking for One

I put five small potatoes in a saucepan, hold it under the cold tap till they’re covered with water, add a squirt of washing-up liquid. – There’s a man who likes his life.


Eine Krähe hackt der anderen [nicht] die Augen aus.

German proverb(s)

Crows on oaks and cranes and cooling towers, the sky cracking up, and crows investigating the cream...

So irregular, appealing and – if one may say – so pitiable a figure is the Swiss writer Robert Walser (1878-1956) that he comfortably resists summary description. Even his biographer, Robert Mächler, begins by warning himself, via a feisty sentence of his subject’s: ‘No one is entitled to behave towards me as if they knew me.’

It’s not that writing...

Carousel: Zagajewski’s Charm

Michael Hofmann, 15 December 2005

For twenty years, since I first read the first poem, ‘To Go to Lvov’, in his first English-language book, Tremor (1985), I have had a happily unexamined admiration for the work of the Polish poet Adam Zagajewski. Hence, perhaps, the inordinate difficulty – even for me, with my sluggishness and resistances – in approaching it now in a spirit of . . ....

Five Poems

Günter Eich, translated by Michael Hofmann, 23 June 2005

Report from a Spa

I haven’t tried the water yet, that can wait. But the redecorated station implies future, which makes me mulish.

Corpuscle count and forest ozone, suspicion of the spa doctors. Nature is a form of negation. Better to stick to the ditties in the spa newsletter.

Brothers Grimm

Nettlebush. The burnt children Wait behind the cellar windows. Their parents have gone out,...

Two Poems

Durs Grünbein, translated by Michael Hofmann, 4 November 2004

In the Provinces 3 (Bohemia)

The silence round a dead mole on the edge of a wheat field is deceptive. Under it is a rendezvous for beetles, armed and in black. Above it wheels a hawk with ruffled wings, till he veers away. Like sappers at the double, ants dig a trench along the spine. On its inside the wires are glowing, nervous maggots on the ticker tape. From the stomach lining traders in...

His Own Prophet: Read Robert Lowell!

Michael Hofmann, 11 September 2003

“The personal poet, the failed chameleon, the reviser, the marshaller of detail, the logomancer, that for me is Lowell, that’s where my own sense of him has settled after so much time. The religious poet, the formal poet, the monumental or confessional or public poet, all these for me are rather fortuitous, almost extraneous showings, that I feel little anxiety in excluding. Nor do I see him as the poet of water and the seaboard . . . rather he is the poet of organic life, growth and decay, and particularly of wood and lumber and mulch, of red and green and brown leaves.”

Imbalance: The Charm of Hugo Williams

Michael Hofmann, 22 May 2003

It is a curious thing that of the three judges offering superlatives on the jacket of Hugo Williams’s Collected Poems – Edna Longley, Douglas Dunn and Peter Porter – none is English. And yet Williams, born in Windsor during World War Two, the son of the English actor Hugh Williams, schooled by Life and Eton, a youthful toiler for Alan Ross’s London Magazine, an...

Poem: ‘Broken Nights’

Michael Hofmann, 3 April 2003

Then morning comes, saying: ‘This was a night.’ Robert Lowell

Broken knights. – No, not like that. Well, no matter. Something agreeably Tennysonian (is there Any other kind?) About ‘broken knights’. Sir Bors and Sir Bedivere. In my one-piece pyjamas – My it doesn’t matter suit, With necessarily non-matching – Matchless, makeless, makeles –...

None for forty years, then two in 14 months. Not London buses, but English translations – in this instance, of books by the Swedish novelist Hjalmar Söderberg (1869-1941). The Serious Game would appear to be a translation of a novel that was first published in Swedish in 1912 and has not previously appeared in English; Doctor Glas is a reissue of a 1963 version of the 1905...

Slowly/Swiftly: James Schuyler

Michael Hofmann, 7 February 2002

Not first sight, often enough, but a second look – it is a mysterious thing with poetry that it finds its own moment. The poets that have meant most to me – Lowell, Bishop, Schuyler – all, as it were, were rudely kept waiting by me. I had their books, or I already knew some poems of theirs, but there was no spark of transference. Then it happened, and our tepid prehistory...

Story: ‘The Excavation’

Joseph Roth, translated by Michael Hofmann, 4 January 2001

The summer​ lay there, waiting to finish. Autumn was when the strangers were expected, the hop merchants from Austria, Germany and England, the rich men off whom many people in our town made their livings.

The summer lay there, and it spawned various illnesses. People got belly-aches and died from eating rotten fruit, the water ran out in the wells, a couple of pine forests burned down, and...

From The Blog
7 February 2019

Brexit – silly, sappy, snappy word – is not a fact, not an event. It’s a condition. It’s the new weather. Brexitosis is what it is. One would rather just groan, or scream, or swear, or feel seasick about the whole thing. All we know is there’s nothing we can do about it. It’s in the future, and it’s in the past, it’s both something that happened yonks ago (maybe hard feelings left over from 1066, or the Field of the Cloth of Gold, or Malplaquet), and something that is promised still to happen. Hence our peculiar helplessness and strickenness. You can’t fix it in the past, and you can’t fix it in the future. It’s like coming round after an operation – when they took out the wrong organ, and then went and left some of their ironmongery in you, for good measure – and swearing, not like a trooper (I don’t think troopers even swear), but like a patient. 

From The Blog
13 September 2017

Old Florida hands (and there are some, even in this new, garish, flattest and most rootless of states) measure out their lives in hurricane names. They remember particular angles of attack, depths of flooding, wind velocities and force measurements, destructiveness in dollar amounts. I can see objects being pushed illustratively around a bar-room table. It’s a form of higher geekishness, each man (and of course they’re usually men) his own survivalist. It’s one of those occasional bits of Floridiana that remind me that people were never actually meant to live here, and that being here converts you into a leathery, eccentric kind of specialist, something like the ‘old sailor,/Drunk and asleep in his boots’ of Stevens’s poem, who ‘Catches tigers/In red weather’.

Three Poems

Michael Hofmann, 2 July 1998


The fat boy by Buddha out of Boadicea with the pebbledash acne and half-timbered haircut, sitting on the pavement with his boots in the gutter –

we must have made his day when we pulled over and asked him for the site of the Iron Age fort in his conservation village.

My Life and Loves

Frank Harris. And a syringe for afters.


In the bedside drawer of a hotel room in the...

Proust? Ha!

Michael Hofmann, 21 August 1997

It’s been some time since I felt much optimism about the prospects for foreign literature in English translation, but for the last three years or so, I’ve been in open despair. In the Eighties, there was still room for the kind of felicitous miscalculation that made the appearance of certain books in English possible – it seems to me these things were only ever done by mistake. The period we are now embarked on is quite possibly terminal. After it, we may expect a deluge – a deluge of nothing.’

The Rear-View Mirror

Michael Hofmann, 31 October 1996

Nothing in me wants to believe – nothing in the book makes me want to believe – that The End of the Story is a performance, but just for that reason I have to begin by saying what a good and believable performance it is: how much I admire the characters and the description and the action, and what a wickedly good account it gives of a novel that doesn’t much want to be a novel, that barely is a novel, but can be nothing else. I hope to lose patience and the thread soon, and get to talking about the plight of the author in the book and what the author does next, instead of the tedious periphrasis of ‘narrator’ and ‘first-person speaker’, but I need to begin by saying that what Lydia Davis proposes to us – even if (fat chance!) it’s a hoax from first word to last – is utterly compelling. As Auden would first look at a poem as a ‘contraption’ before going on to assess the kind of thing it might be, so one has to say of The End of the Story, ‘this works’ – though it’s probably the least interesting thing about it.’


Michael Hofmann, 23 May 1996

Paul Celan was born in 1920 as Paul Antschel, to German-speaking Jewish parents in Czernowitz, the capital of the Bukovina: ‘a posthumously born Kakanier,’ he once said of himself (the city and province of his birth had been ceded to Romania in 1918, when the Habsburg Empire was broken up). His upbringing reflected the family’s Jewish traditions, but also the deep love of German literature and culture that was often found, especially in Jewish populations, in the Eastern marches of Austria-Hungary (think of the Galician, Joseph Roth). In Celan’s case, this came to him from his mother: German was, in every sense, his mother-tongue. Already as a boy, he loved poetry, first Goethe and Schiller, then Hölderlin, Heine, Trakl, Kafka and in particular Rilke. He spoke German, Hebrew, Romanian and some Yiddish and was obviously an exceptional linguist, later translating poetry from Russian, English, French and Italian. And yet, when he came to write, he had no real alternative to German: ‘Poetry – that is the fateful uniqueness of language,’ he wrote. Only slightly younger Jewish writers like Yehuda Amichai and Dan Pagis – a fellow Bukovinan – emigrated to Israel and wrote their poetry in Hebrew: Celan couldn’t. It is what gives his poetry its desperate distinction. ‘There is nothing in the world,’ Celan said, ‘for which a poet will give up writing, not even when he is a Jew, and the language of his poems is German.’’

Poem: ‘Still Life’

Michael Hofmann, 4 January 1996

A sort of overgrown phial, opaque blown glass of the sort we once saw them making at Murano, whitish – with blue? with yellow?

And sticking out of it that odd trouvaille, a dried yard of was it hogweed, Schweinekraut,Schweinswurzel, something swinish about it,

some hollow dill-like plant withered to articulate straw that my father half-inched, like a spindly triffid on the steel table.


Three Poems

Michael Hofmann, 22 June 1995

An Education

For James, again

At the old Tramontana on Tottenham Court Road among the hi-fi shops I learned to order

what you ordered, not studenty noodles but sophisticated things like the special.

After years of our playing at lunch the faithful waiter shook himself to death with Parkinson’s

practically before our eyes. (I remember the rattle and slop of one last saucerful of coffee.)


Good Things

Michael Hofmann, 20 April 1995

I don’t believe this country has a better writer to offer than James Buchan. I can’t think of anyone who concedes so much of his own intelligence to his protagonists – doesn’t mock or belittle them – and gives them so much world to do battle with. I see no particular limitation to his scope or style: his stunningly curt dialogues and ravishing recitatives are equally persuasive. No one writes better short sentences; he has a strong grasp of form; an Occam-ish economy (this is his first book over two hundred pages); and is utterly without the factitiousness – the I’ll-pretend-to-write-a-novel-and-you-pretend-to-read-it – that seems so current in England. In the end – though this is bizarre – he is probably a religious novelist, whose theme is salvation, though I’d be surprised if he’s actually used the word anywhere. Most tantalisingly, he is still better than any of his books.’

I have never read a life like John Fuegi’s of Brecht. Revisionism doesn’t begin to describe it. This is dartboard stuff, effigy abuse, voodoo biography. If Fuegi could get inside the Dorotheenfriedhof, uproot Brecht’s jagged scalene headstone, dig through six feet of Brandenburg sand and a zinc coffin, and do something to the remains involving chicken heads, inverted crosses and black candles, I don’t doubt that he would. In an epigraph over his preface – the first words in the book, effectively – he quotes an oblique little exchange from Waiting for Godot:’

Poem: ‘Scylla’

Michael Hofmann, 20 October 1994

after Metamorphoses, Book VIII

I knew about Helen, they kept selling me Helen, but I never even got to be stolen in the first place. Sieges are boring – did you know. Everything’s fine, just each day’s a little bit worse than the last.

And you start thinking how long it is since you saw prawns or a nice pair of earrings or a magazine. I had my townhouse, but I practically...


Michael Hofmann, 22 September 1994

Everybody knows – Paul Muldoon said it on the radio recently – that writing poetry can only get harder the more you keep at it. Against that is the belief, or perhaps the determination, that it shouldn’t. That instead of the diminishing returns, spending twice the time saying half as much twice as cumbrously/flashily/winsomely, one should use craft and expertise to overthrow the stiflement and self-importance of craft and expertise – to be as uninhibited and fresh and airy as a beginner. Not continue to paint yourself into a corner with aching brush and paint gone hard, but take a line for a walk, as Tom Paulin says, taking a leaf from Paul Klee, whose daily wit, invention and application (not to mention his use of bastard materials) stand behind this, his fifth book of poems.’

Three Poems

Michael Hofmann, 21 July 1994


For months the heat of love has kept me marching

Robert Lowell

I snap my boy’s bow in the morning, wash his stiffy at night, blow my brains out with music, anything from ‘Ballade von der sexuellen Hörigkeit’ to ‘Sexual Healing’. Je te veux.

The vaunted sod under my feet is rolled up like a piece of turf or a blanket in my grenadier’s...

Main Man

Michael Hofmann, 7 July 1994

When you get onto the big wheel of writing (or the little wheels within wheels of poetry), it seems clear to me that the people you look to and feel an affinity for are not – to begin with, anyway – the ones who get on immediately before and after you, still less the ones who’ve been on for ages – you want their seats – but the half-strangers you see through the struts half a cycle (half a generation) away, falling as you rise, rising as you fall. There were three poets I had my eye on – probably all appalled to be mentioned in each other’s company, and by me: Joseph Brodsky, Tom Paulin and, most intimately though I knew him least, Ian Hamilton. When I sent him a copy of my first book, I realised I’d even purloined his initials for my title.’

Three Poems

Michael Hofmann, 10 February 1994


I think he must have foreseen everything, even this: his name, ‘Dr Gen Hofmann’ – mortuary punctilio! – in brass, himself tipped up in a medium coffin,

a mite of disgust on his face while the other side of the plateglass two children, windowshopping, gawp at their first corpse.

There wasn’t, as he discovered, a career in it, but he never underestimated...

Lowry’s Planet

Michael Hofmann, 27 January 1994

Quauhnahuac, his Cuernavaca, is overlooked by the two volcanoes, but Malcolm Lowry’s life is ringed by non-events and no-shows that were even more spectacular, things that might have happened or threatened or promised to happen, but never did: such things as financial independence; a regular relationship with an editor, a publishing house, a landlord; a modus vivendi with alcohol; Jungian analysis in Zurich or lobotomy in Wimbledon. Above all, there is The Voyage That Never Ends, the cycle of novels that he mooted but never wrote, or wrote but never finished, with fantastic, phantom, harpooning titles like In Ballast to the White Sea, La Mordida, Swinging the Maelstrom. All these things – books, changed circumstances, surgery – are cures of one sort or another, for as Stephen Spender remarked in his introduction to Under the Volcano, ‘with Lowry one is never far away from the thought that although there is an illness there may also be a cure.’ They obtruded and impended like the gods in the life of a Greek, but when it came down to it, they remained offstage, sat on their hands, and he gave his life to their absence. He is the one whom the gods did not save. Despite the offer made to Faust in the third of Under the Volcano’s three epigraphs, ‘wer immer strebend sich bemüht, den konnen wir erlösen’ – ‘whoever unceasingly strives upward … him can we save’ – the gods did not come for him. And yet strive he did, indubitably. Passim. Even a graphologist would have to agree:’…

Don’t blub

Michael Hofmann, 7 October 1993

In his slightly overplayed beginning, Watkins says:

In the Doghouse

Michael Hofmann, 27 May 1993

In the wall-month of November 1989 I translated two pieces from an anthology of East German writing for the magazine Granta, which in the end didn’t use either of them. (These things happen.) One of them was by Christa Wolf, an extract, I think, from her book Sommerstück. It was just two pages long, nothing more than a preamble and image, but of a Shakespearean power and amplitude. A group of adults and children (Wolf’s habitual, occasionally irritating, panti-social ‘we’), driving in rural East Germany, stop by a beautiful old farmhouse that is in the process of being vandalised by the local youth: doors and windows, furnishings, the massive Dutch stoves in the corners, everything senselessly in ruins. As they leave, a little girl in the party sees a birdcage toppled over in a nettle-patch and walks over to have a look. Then she sees it: the furry remains (what remains) of a cat, locked inside the bird-cage and left to starve and rot.

Aunts and Uncles

Michael Hofmann, 19 November 1992

After a lost war, Hofmannsthal said, one should write comedies, and in the Twenties, within his limitations and against his genius, he did just that. I wonder what he would prescribe for the countries of Eastern Europe – many of them former Habsburg territories – after what is infinitely worse than a lost war: regional entropy; systemic collapse; an abrupt close brackets on an experiment that failed; a largely bloodless and painfully incomplete reversion to the status quo ante of forty, fifty, even ninety years ago; future generations exposed to the deleterious half-lives of political, industrial and human debris; the discrediting of one set of political ideas in favour of another, older, just as discredited and probably far more violent – the belief in race and nation. Riddle? Farce? Silence?

Three Poems

Michael Hofmann, 10 September 1992


Delicates at the piss conference.

The Recovery

It isn’t that the pieces are in place – The places is in pieces.

d.g.pres. Salinas de Gortari or One Man’s Mexico

The forty-first country to introduce Hair-extension treatment.

Here comes the end of the world

Michael Hofmann, 23 July 1992

For a year or more, I was haunted by the outline of a story: someone is told to immolate himself as a political protest. All day he runs around whatever city it is, as it were Leopold Bloom with a can of petrol, wondering whether to go through with it, waiting for the appointed time, saying his goodbyes. I didn’t know where this idea had come to me from; no one I asked knew anything about any book along these lines, and I was just beginning to think that I must have dreamed it and (God forbid!) that I should write it myself, when I came upon a copy in a second-hand shop: the book is laughingly entitled A Minor Apocalypse, the city is Warsaw, the liquid is not petrol but, unpleasantly, ‘thinner’, and the author of this terrific and almost unknown masterpiece is Tadeusz Konwicki.

Praying for an end

Michael Hofmann, 30 January 1992

These books are the autobiographies of three displaced persons. In terms of anno domini, they might make up a single, almost seamless life: childhood (Czerniawski), youth (Sperber) and manhood (Lind). But such a life would be a monster of contradiction. Two of the authors write in their acquired language, English, and one has been translated from German; two are individualists, one is a subscriber to causes, a disciple and a belonger; two are (rather dissimilar) Jews, one had a Catholic-upbringing; two fetch up in England, one in France. I will be Anglocentric and begin with the English.

Dazzling Philosophy

Michael Hofmann, 15 August 1991

Seeing things, Seamus Heaney’s ninth volume of new poems, is aimed squarely at transcendence. The title has a humble and practical William Carlos Williams ring to it, but that is misleading. It is better understood as having been distilled from ‘I must be seeing things’, said seriously, and with a fair amount of stress on the ‘I must’.

Montale’s Eastbourne

Michael Hofmann, 23 May 1991

The first Montale poem to make any impression on me was ‘Eastbourne’ in the harsh translation by G.S. Fraser in the New Directions Selected Poems:

Muldoon – A Mystery

Michael Hofmann, 20 December 1990

Looked at in one way, Madoc – A Mystery is an extraordinary and unpredictable departure, a book of poems the size of many novels, with a title poem nigh on two hundred and fifty pages long, doubling Muldoon’s output at a stroke. But in another way, it does remarkably little to change the sense one has of Paul Muldoon. It is a book for initiates, more of the same. Each of his previous five volumes has ended with something a little longer, a relaxing gallop after the dressage – even ‘The Year of the Sloes, for Ishi’ in New Weather (1973) was four pages long. Further, the structure of Madoc is actually identical with that of Muldoon’s last book, Meeting the British (1987) – in fact, it seems like a monstrously curtailed and distended parody of it: the prose poem at the start, a section of short poems (no more than six), and then the pièce de résistance, which, for all its length, occupies just one line on the contents page, as though the poet were telling us it’s no big deal.’

Two Poems

Michael Hofmann, 25 October 1990

Aerogrammes, 1-5

It felt like my life talking to me – after two months, talking to me again – saying it had bought a new duvet but was still dithering on the matter of children, that it had been seeing a lot of its friends – it wondered whether it was truly in love with me – and had enjoyed some pleasantly successful moments at work, but it wasn’t eating or...

Poem: ‘Lament for Crassus’

Michael Hofmann, 26 October 1989

Who grows old in fifty pages of Plutarch: mores, omens, campaigns, Marius at sixty, fighting fit, working out on the Campus Martius?

It surely isn’t me, pushing thirty, taking a life a night, my head on a bookshelf, five shelves of books overhead, the bed either a classic or remaindered?

– I read about Crassus, who owned most of Rome. Crassus, the third man, the third triumvir,...

Two Poems

Michael Hofmann, 6 July 1989


The crazy zocalo tips at a loco angle. It pours three hundred infant girls, dressed like Christmas tree fairies, down the church’s throat, singing. A thin trickle of demonstrators chant ‘Mexico!’ uphill.

Whitewashed against white ants, the yew tree trunks look spindly and phosphorescent, like stalagmites in the cavern of their shade. The birds won’t sing. An...

Three Poems

Michael Hofmann, 5 May 1988


The brick ship of Victorian science steamed on, ivy beard, iron beams and stairs,

iron paddleboat pillars. A pair of whiskery Germans, father and son, had specialised in fixing in glass

some of the degenerative conditions of fruit. A split blue peach, a bough laden with gangrene –

all pocked, opaque, Venetian, venereal ... Dry air, manila light, cardboard and silence,


Michael Hofmann reads his father’s book

Michael Hofmann, 25 June 1987

After thirty years teaching German literature and writing radio plays, my father suddenly began to write fiction. Our Conquest was his fifth book in five years, and the second to be translated into English. (He has since published three others in Germany). The sense of the possessive in the title is objective: it is we who have been conquered. The book plays for roughly the first 24 hours of peace in a small town in Germany, on a Wednesday in May 1945; and yet, as we shall see, and as the translation has it, a little fortuitously, because the word is Ruhe (‘quiet’), ‘there’s never a moment’s peace in our town.’ There is a famous concrete poem/ calendar which goes something like Krieg/ Krieg/ Krieg/ Krieg/ Mai/ Juni/ Juli, but to the world of my father’s novel, things are rather less clear-cut and progressive. There, the fighting is over, but the war is still everywhere.

Conspiratorial Hapsburger

Michael Hofmann, 5 March 1987

When Joseph Roth was asked once to write about his earliest memory, he described how as a baby he had seen his mother strip his cradle and hand it over to a strange woman, who ‘holds it to her chest, as though it were some trifling object of negligible dimensions, speaks for a long time, smiles, showing her long yellow teeth, goes to the door and leaves the house. I feel sad, unspeakably sad and helpless. I “know” that I have lost something irrecoverable.’ This is an outrageous story: but one may admire it for that, for its mischievous invention, and for its limited awareness of such gestures and proportions as a baby might truly have observed. It brings to mind what Roth said about his revered Heine: ‘Maybe he did make up the odd fact, but then he saw things the way they ought to be. His eye was more than visual apparatus and optic nerve.’ Roth, too, was endowed with an eye like that: it specialised in seeing things that had vanished off the face of the earth.

Poem: ‘The Late Richard Dadd, 1817-1886’

Michael Hofmann, 4 December 1986

The Kentish Independent of 1843 carried his pictures of his father, himself and the scene of his crime. The first photo-journalist: fairy-painter, father-slayer, poor, bad, mad Richard Dadd.

His extended Grand Tour took in the Holy Land and ended in Bethlem Hospital, with its long panoptical galleries, spider-plants, whippets and double-gaslights. He had outlived himself at twenty-six ...


Poem: ‘The Machine that Cried’

Michael Hofmann, 3 April 1986

il n’y a pas de détail


When I learned that my parents were returning to Germany, and that I was to be jettisoned, I gave a sudden lurch into infancy and Englishness. Carpets again loomed large in my world: I sought out their fabric and warmth, where there was nowhere to fall ...

I took up jigsaw puzzles, read mystical cricket thrillers passing all understanding,...

Poem: ‘Days of 1985’

Michael Hofmann, 19 December 1985

Warm air and no sun – the sky was like cardboard, the same depthless no-colour as the pavements and buildings. It was May, and pink cherry blossoms lay and shoaled in the gutter, bleeding as after some wedding ...

Broken glass, corrugated tin and spraygunned plywood sayingArsenal rules the world. Twenty floors up Chantry Point, the grey diamond panels over two arsoned windows were...

Poem: ‘Digital Recordings’

Michael Hofmann, 20 June 1985

Everything feels soft to my hands useless with cold in this high-style country cottage, a retreat for painters and musicians in summer. I put them up

and feel my father’s head, his thinning, pliant hair and scalloped temples – there to threaten or impress women, I once read, with the frontal bone of intellect ...

The central heating clicks on, and the warm air shoots straight up...

Winking at myself

Michael Hofmann, 7 March 1985

The Austrian writer Peter Handke is so successful and so prolific that, reviewing one of his recent novels, his arch-enemy Marcel Reich-Ranicki, literary editor of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, ended by crowing at the fact that Langsame Heimkehr bad failed to make it onto the best-seller list. ‘Let no one say there’s no such thing as progress,’ he concluded. But it has been a long time coming. In 1977, when Das Gewicht der Welt was published by Residenz in Salzburg, it went through two editions and 50,000 copies in a year. By now, with the Suhrkamp paperback thrown in, it must have exceeded a million. The figures are sufficient to dispel any notion that in reading this ‘Journal’ one might be doing something private or privileged.

Two Poems

Michael Hofmann, 18 October 1984


My father peers into the lit sitting-room and says, ‘Are you here?’ ... Yes, I am in one of his cloudy white leather armchairs, with one foot not too disrespectfully on the table, reading Horvâth’s Godless Youth. Without another word, he goes out again, baffling and incommunicable, the invisible man, dampening any speculation.

Open House

Rawlplugs and...

Poem: ‘From Kensal Rise to Heaven’

Michael Hofmann, 17 May 1984

Old Labour slogans, Venceremos, dates for demonstrations like passed deadlines – they must be disappointed to find they still exist. Half-way down the street, a sign struggles to its feet and says Brent.

The surfaces are friable, broken and dirty, a skin unsuitable for chemical treatment. Building, repair and demolition go on simultaneously, indistinguishably. Change and decay. –...

Poem: ‘In the Realm of the Senses’

Michael Hofmann, 16 February 1984

One perfunctory fuck on our first night, then nothing for ever ... only jokes and hard lines, cold water, mushy soap and sleep that never comes. We hurt with tiredness, and are abashed by our dirt.

We fall further behind the days, our overnighted systems struggle with smoke and sights and consommations. The yellow Citröen sits up and fills its lungs, a black and white green-backed...

Two Poems

Michael Hofmann, 17 November 1983

Campaign Fever

We woke drugged and naked. Did our flowers rob us and beat us over the head while we were asleep? They were competing for the same air as us – the thick, vegetable breath of under the eaves.

It seems like several days ago that I went to see you to your train. A cuckoo called and our vision drizzled, though the air was dry. In a place I’d never noticed before, a low...

Three Poems

Michael Hofmann, 4 August 1983

My Father at Fifty

Your mysterious economy blows the buttons off your shirts, and permits overdrafts at several foreign banks. – It must cost the earth.

Once I thought of you virtually as a savage, atavistic, well-aligned, without frailties. A man of strong appetites, governed by instinct.

You never cleaned your teeth, but they were perfect anyway from a diet of undercooked meat; you...

Poem: ‘On Fanø’

Michael Hofmann, 3 February 1983

Acid rain from the Ruhr strips one pine in three ... To supplement their living, the neutral Danes let out their houses during the summer months – exposure, convexity, clouds and the shadows of clouds. Wild grass grows on the manure of their thatch.

There are concrete bunkers among the sand-dunes – bomb-shelters, or part of Heligoland and the V2s? ... German hippies have taken...

Poem: ‘Kleist in Paris’

Michael Hofmann, 16 September 1982

Dearest Mina,

      Thank you for yours, my first news of you in ten weeks. Imagine my happiness when I saw my address in your handwriting. But then the postmaster wanted to see my passport, and I didn’t have it on me. I begged him to make an exception, swore that I was Kleist, but it was in vain. Deceived a thousand times, he couldn’t believe there...

Two Poems

Michael Hofmann, 6 May 1982


The filter crumples – a cruel exhilaration as the day’s first cigarette draws to a close. The optician’s colours turn to a dizzy whiteness in my solar plexus ... With longing I speculate on Heimito von Doderer’s excursus on tobacco – the pharmaceutical precision of the true scholar.


Your ringed hands clutch your elbows. In your arms is someone...

Poem: ‘Eclogue’

Michael Hofmann, 4 February 1982

Industry undressing in front of Agriculture – not a pretty sight. The subject for one of those allegorical Victorian sculptures. An energetic mismatch. But Pluto’s hell-holes terminate in or around the flower-meadows and orchards of Proserpine. Ceres’ poor daughter is whisked away by the top-hatted manufacturer on his iron horse ... Brick huts in the fields, barred...

Two Poems

Michael Hofmann, 1 October 1981


Seventeen languages under the thumb of one, and that not even German. The Habsburgs. The blind, glassy double-windows are flytraps. Their yellow barracks – justice, education, government – smelling of floor-polish and disinfectant ... An empire ruled from a set of converted barns.

Monsters of the Deep

We could never understand how it worked: their relationship was...

Two Poems

Michael Hofmann, 2 July 1981

Museum Piece

The room smells of semen. The leather curtain that hangs in the doorway to keep the men from the boys is now flapping like a ventilator ... People crowd in to see the erotic drawings. Yonis in close-up like a row of fingerprints. – Hokusai’s hairfine precipice technique applied to pubic hair. Fingers do the walking, tiny feet wave in mid-air. His white ladies groan...

Poem: ‘Miracles of Science’

Michael Hofmann, 19 March 1981

‘I had made a religion of his will, the Papal Bull of his Infallibility ... He chose for both of us, and I was happy.

Three bags full. He had an affair and told me. That he was impelled to it by loneliness and a long curiosity.

How can I forget it? They got drunk, had sex, and lay in bed watching TV. It’s as obvious as though I’d done it myself.

An alien nerve attached to...

Patricia Beer’s Selected Poems contain work composed over a period of two decades. They are a tribute to her consistency rather than to her development: I don’t find myself skipping pages because her inspiration underwent a brief eclipse, or took a direction I happen to dislike. Nor do I turn to the newest or the oldest poems more readily: they are too much of a piece. Selection can be a leveller, but in Patricia Beer’s case, the level is excellence. The writing is plain and elegant; the poems range from the quietly autobiographical to the dramatic monologue to the descriptive piece. But by far the majority of them contain elements from all three types, blended together.

Seven Poems

Michael Hofmann, 4 September 1980


I live in Berkeleyan hostility With my parents. The fridge bellows Like a young tractor. Very soon I shall Run away and join the Vatican Guard.

Back Numbers

Carelessly we tore our love Like soft newspapers with feet. Then stooping down, we read With interest some vintage items.

Carnal Poem

Birds came and pecked at a group of yellow bread crusts scattered on a low roof.

She lay on her...

Poem: ‘La Nuit Américaine’

Michael Hofmann, 22 May 1980

Her mother was her father’s senior by something like twenty years; a difference she was proud of. Most recently she was tall, shapely, and engaged to her date at home, though still our age and not yet twenty. A shimmering girl with polished nails and a soft creamy face, who washed her white blonde hair with pink strawberry shampoo. When she was little, her hair caught fire and her older...



18 December 2014

‘Quality’. Would that be any particular quality? Anthony Grayling’s letter is bullying, untrustworthy, interested, substanceless and witless (Letters, 5 February). As for ‘construction … construction’, surely his haemorrhoids – what a silly thing to say – must have had all his attention. He needs to get out of the river, and back to his first-years.


9 January 1992

‘That was around 1960, and the two writers never met; but both had become something of a cult,’ writes John Bayley (LRB, 9 January). In I960, Malcolm Lowry had been dead for three years, and, far from having become ‘something of a cult’, at the time of his death none of his work was in print in English. I can’t help thinking that the operation of a cult is more interesting...


7 February 1980

SIR: Oi veh, what a schlimazel! To accuse Joan Didion of a ‘schlepping style’ for saying that in her shopping-centre she ‘would have monkeys, and Chinese restaurants, and Mylar kites and bands of small girls playing tambourine,’ as Martin Amis does (LRB, 7 February), is the mark of a goyisher kop. When a yente like Didion offers her reader such rare freylakhs, it is a mitzvah;...

Kafka wrote that, were it not for the final act, Michael Kohlhaas would be ‘a thing of perfection’, which is a diplomatic way of saying that Kleist absolutely butchers it. In fact, one of the...

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What a carry-on: W.S. Graham

Seamus Perry, 18 July 2019

Many poets end up having a hard life but W.S. Graham went out of his way to have one. His dedication to poetry, about which he seems never to have had a second thought, was remorseless, and his instinct,...

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Remarque apparently knew that The Promised Land would be his last novel, and meant it to be one of his finest, perhaps his masterwork.

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Jakob Wassermann, who published nearly a book a year for the last thirty years of his life but died broke and exhausted, soon to be forgotten, on 1 January 1934 at the age of sixty, was well...

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Opposite: Peter Stamm

Benjamin Lytal, 30 August 2012

‘Literature should be naked,’ Peter Stamm writes. Words should never obscure the story, ‘its warmth, its form, its vitality’. It’s form that critics in Germany and...

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The cow, the shoe, then you: Hans Fallada

Philip Oltermann, 8 March 2012

On Tuesday, 17 October 1911, 18-year-old Rudolf Ditzen, the future Hans Fallada, got up before dawn to meet his schoolfriend Hanns Dietrich von Necker at a tourist spot outside Rudolstadt in...

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Extreme Understanding: Irmgard Keun

Jenny Diski, 10 April 2008

As any adult can tell you – or any adult not given over entirely to mawkish and convenient notions of innocence – children are born spies. Every parent (previously an independent...

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Tooloose-Lowrytrek: Malcolm Lowry

Elizabeth Lowry, 1 November 2007

The two central facts about Malcolm Lowry are that he wrote and that he drank. He drank while writing – or possibly he wrote while drinking. When he died in June 1957 after downing a lethal...

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A Leap from the Bridge: Wolfgang Koeppen

Alexander Scrimgeour, 12 December 2002

Between 1951 and 1954, Wolfgang Koeppen published three scathing, disillusioned novels ridiculing the notion of a new start and a clean slate for West Germany. At the time, perhaps as many as 80...

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To Live like a Bird

Mark Rudman, 1 June 2000

Michael Hofmann’s poetry is a lament for a lost world. Some years ago, in an article on Frank O’Hara, he talked about New York no longer being the thrilling place it had been in the...

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Empire of Signs: Joseph Roth

James Wood, 4 March 1999

With Joseph Roth, you begin – and end – with the prose. The great delight of this Austrian novelist, who wrote in the Twenties and Thirties, lies in his strange, nimble, curling...

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Penelope Fitzgerald, 9 February 1995

At the age of 48, after thirty years of lecturing on German literature and writing radio plays, Gert Hofmann began to produce disconcerting novels. Michael Hofmann, his son, the poet, confronted...

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Never for me

Michael Wood, 2 December 1993

‘I was not myself. I was just anyone.’ The person who says ‘I’ in Michael Hofmann’s earlier poems is uncertain, diffident, angry; he seems both gnarled and youthful,...

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Gabriele Annan, 5 November 1992

This German novel has waited nearly forty years for its English translator. Michael Hofmann fell in love the moment the Good Fairy told him about it, and set out to liberate it from the thorn...

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No more pretty face

Philip Horne, 8 March 1990

Wim Wender’s very pleasurable Paris, Texas (1984) is both an American movie and a European film. Its creative pedigree is mixed – all through the credits: the German Wenders as...

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John Lanchester, 5 January 1989

Attentive readers of the Guardian’s news pages will already know about Arabesques. A 1986 report from Jerusalem told readers of a first novel by a 36-year-old writer which was making a big...

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French Air

John Sutherland, 12 November 1987

In his autobiographical papers, Surely you’re joking, Mr Feynman?, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist, Richard Feynman, describes being piqued by an article in Science about how well...

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Tales of Hofmann

Blake Morrison, 20 November 1986

The acrimony in Michael Hofmann’s book is that of a son towards his father. Like a family photograph album, the sequence ‘My Father’s House’ records the son’s growth...

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We shall not be moved

John Bayley, 2 February 1984

There remains a most decided difference – indeed it grows wider every year – between what Philip Larkin calls ‘being a writer’, or ‘being a poet’, and managing...

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