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Hoo-Hooing in the Birch

Michael Hofmann: Tomas Tranströmer, 16 June 2016

Bright Scythe: Selected Poems 
by Tomas Tranströmer, translated by Patty Crane.
Sarabande, 207 pp., £13, November 2015, 978 1 941411 21 6
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... or abroad. Poets liked him. Seamus Heaney of course liked him, but so did others as dissimilar as Joseph Brodsky, Andrew Motion and (one of his first translators) Robert Bly. Poets were drawn to translate him too: fellow Northerners like Robin Fulton (for a long time now a resident of Norway, though 48 years ago for small reward he was teaching me ...

All Fresh Today

Michael Hofmann: Karen Solie, 3 April 2014

The Living Option: Selected Poems 
by Karen Solie.
Bloodaxe, 160 pp., £9.95, October 2013, 978 1 85224 994 6
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... 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 previous books of poems, Short Haul Engine (2001), Modern and Normal (2005) and Pigeon (2009), and now this ‘new and selected’, and, yes, she is the one by whom the language lives ...


Sophie Pinkham: Sergei Dovlatov, 21 May 2015

Pushkin Hills 
by Sergei Dovlatov, translated by Katherine Dovlatov.
Counterpoint, 163 pp., £15.99, April 2014, 978 1 61902 477 9
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The Zone: A Prison Camp Guard’s Story 
by Sergei Dovlatov, translated by Anne Frydman.
Alma, 176 pp., £7.99, October 2013, 978 1 84749 357 6
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... York his career took off. A kind-hearted Slavicist volunteered to translate him; his old friend Joseph Brodsky recommended him to the New Yorker, which soon published a number of his stories; Andrew Wylie took him on as a client; Knopf published his books. But what he longed for was publication in Russia. Appearing in the New Yorker didn’t mean much ...

It’s him, Eddie

Gary Indiana: Carrère’s Limonov, 23 October 2014

Limonov: A Novel 
by Emmanuel Carrère, translated by John Lambert.
Allen Lane, 340 pp., £20, October 2014, 978 1 84614 820 0
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... nihilism, his boundless self-pity disguised as principled hatred of everything. His fixation on Joseph Brodsky as the mortal enemy blocking his route to world fame. And the banality of Limonov’s ‘scandalous’ books, suggestive of Henry Miller’s, if Miller were viciously bloody-minded and thought Stalin was the greatest thing since apricot ...

Conspiratorial Hapsburger

Michael Hofmann, 5 March 1987

Hotel Savoy 
by Joseph Roth, translated by John Hoare.
Chatto, 183 pp., £9.95, November 1986, 0 7011 2879 8
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... 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 ...

Muted Ragu Tones

Michael Hofmann: David Szalay, 21 April 2016

All That Man Is 
by David Szalay.
Cape, 437 pp., £14.99, April 2016, 978 0 224 09976 9
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... of tasting-notes, the nonce-Scottish design, the resourceful, somehow tailor-made unpleasantness. Joseph Brodsky used to say: aesthetics before ethics. How, then, given that one pub is described as having ‘muted ragu tones’, and another a ‘burgundy honeycomb’ of a ceiling, can we possibly hope for even passable behaviour from any of the ...

Montale’s Eastbourne

Michael Hofmann, 23 May 1991

The Coastguard’s House 
by Eugenio Montale, translated by Jeremy Reed.
Bloodaxe, 223 pp., £7.95, December 1990, 1 85224 100 4
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... la Musique’, Elizabeth Bishop’s ‘View of the Capitol from the Library of Congress’, Joseph Roth’s novel The Radetzky March), public music as a backdrop to private musings better still. Eastbourne, (August) Bank Holiday – ‘the English ferragosto’, Montale domesticates it in a letter – a country taking its ease, luxuriating in ...
By the Banks of the Neva: Chapters from the Lives and Careers of the British in 18th-Century Russia 
by Anthony Cross.
Cambridge, 496 pp., £60, November 1996, 0 521 55293 1
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... his Learning, and at his Return brought over with him two Master Ship-builders, John Deane and Joseph Noy’. In England, he sailed constantly, witnessed a mock battle in Portsmouth, saw a new bomb vessel demonstrated at Deptford and drank liberally with many a sea captain. (At Deptford, he may also have fathered the landscape painter Alexander ...


Michael Hofmann: Zagajewski’s Charm, 15 December 2005

Selected Poems 
by Adam Zagajewski, translated by Clare Cavanagh, Renata Gorczynski, Benjamin Ivry and C.K. Williams.
Faber, 173 pp., £12.99, October 2004, 0 571 22425 3
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A Defence of Ardour: Essays 
by Adam Zagajewski.
Farrar, Straus, 198 pp., $14, October 2005, 0 374 52988 4
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... and absence. ‘A Morning in Vicenza’ goes on to become an elegy to two admired friends, Joseph Brodsky and Krzysztof Kieslowski, but it could have gone anywhere (I quoted the first of its three stanzas). This unpredictability, storylessness, geographical unattachment, is a feature of Zagajewski; the Selected Poems (cut down from a somewhat ...


John Sturrock, 24 May 1990

Vladimir Nabokov: Selected Letters 1940-1977 
edited by Dmitri Nabokov and Matthew Bruccoli.
Weidenfeld, 582 pp., £29.95, February 1990, 0 297 81034 0
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... writer, late in life, that he speaks up for those who have fallen foul of the Soviet regime, for Joseph Brodsky or for Solzhenitsyn, writers he could never admire but whom he is ready to support – he even arranges for jeans (or ‘dungarees’, as he puts it) to be sent to Brodsky in Russia. He writes to the ...


Ian Sansom, 17 July 1997

W.H. Auden: Prose 1926-38, Essays and Reviews and Travel Books in Prose and Verse 
edited by Edward Mendelson.
Faber, 836 pp., £40, March 1997, 0 571 17899 5
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... the drift of these lines six years later in stanza five – ‘a real morsel’, according to Joseph Brodsky – of ‘September 1, 1939’: Faces along the bar Cling to their average day: The lights must never go out, The music must always play, All the conventions conspire To make this fort assume The furniture of home; Lest we should see where we ...


Suzy Hansen: In Istanbul, 7 May 2015

... Kelebek Korse, or Butterfly Corset, a bra shop that has been on Istiklal Caddesi since 1936. Joseph Brodsky travelled to Istanbul in the 1980s because he felt ‘for some reason, that here, in apartments, shops and coffeehouses, I should find intact an atmosphere that at present seems to have totally vanished everywhere else’. Inside these ...

Tsvetaeva’s Turn

Simon Karlinsky, 12 November 1987

A Captive Lion: The Life of Marina Tsvetayeva 
by Elaine Feinstein.
Hutchinson, 287 pp., £15.95, February 1987, 0 09 165900 0
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The Selected Poems of Marina Tsvetayeva 
translated by Elaine Feinstein.
Hutchinson, 108 pp., £6.95, February 1987, 0 09 165931 0
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... and a startlingly original verbal texture. Good rhymed versions of her poetry have been done by Joseph Brodsky and by Robin Kemball, who translated the whole of Tsvetaeva’s collection The Demesne of the Swans. The late Eve Malleret managed in her French translations to convey, not only Tsvetaeva’s metres and rhymes, but also her stylistic ...


John Bayley, 7 August 1986

No, I’m not afraid 
by Irina Ratushinskaya, translated by David McDuff.
Bloodaxe, 142 pp., £4.95, May 1986, 0 906427 95 9
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Shcharansky: Hero of Our Time 
by Martin Gilbert.
Macmillan, 467 pp., £14.95, April 1986, 0 333 39504 2
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The Russian Orthodox Church: A Contemporary History 
by Jane Ellis.
Croom Helm, 531 pp., £27.50, April 1986, 0 7099 1567 5
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... books were available to them, rather than too few? In his brief but authoritative introduction Joseph Brodsky says that Irina Ratushinskaya is ‘a poet with a voice of her own, piercing but devoid of hysteria’, who has been influenced but not taken over by the majestic voices of the Russian poets of the persecuted epoch – Mandelstam, Tsvetaeva ...

Too Many Alibis

James Wood: Geoffrey Hill, 1 July 1999

by Geoffrey Hill.
Penguin, 76 pp., £7.99, September 1996, 0 14 058786 1
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The Truth of Love: A Poem 
by Geoffrey Hill.
Penguin, 82 pp., £8.99, January 1997, 0 14 058910 4
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... but which is not afraid to hazard a connection between Mandelstam’s exile and that of Joseph Brodsky (to whom it is addressed), and then to Walcott’s softer exile. Abjuring Hill’s clenched penitence, yet mindful of his own rude belatedness, Walcott joins himself in ideal alliance with Brodsky and ...

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