Michael Hofmann

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

‘Do  people ever know their true reason for embarking on a long journey?’ Tété-Michel Kpomassie asks, just as he is setting out for home (où ça?) at the end of a year and a half in the Greenland of his dreams. He was 16 when he first left Togo for Europe; 24 when he reached Greenland, by way of Ghana, Senegal, France, Germany and the colonial...

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...

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 many...

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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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Chilly

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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Self-Hatred

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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Foreigners

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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