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Michael Hofmann reads his father’s book

Michael Hofmann, 25 June 1987

Our Conquest 
by Gert Hofmann, translated by Christopher Middleton.
Carcanet, 281 pp., £9.95, March 1987, 0 85635 687 5
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... 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 ...
Selected Poems 
by Patricia Beer.
Hutchinson, 152 pp., £5.95, April 1980, 0 09 138450 8
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The Venetian Vespers 
by Anthony Hecht.
Oxford, 91 pp., £3.95, March 1980, 0 19 211933 8
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Nostalgia for the Present 
by Andrei Voznesensky.
Oxford, 150 pp., £3.50, April 1980, 0 19 211900 1
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Reflections on the Nile 
by Ronald Bottrall.
London Magazine Editions, 56 pp., £3.50, May 1980, 0 904388 33 6
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Summer Palaces 
by Peter Scupham.
Oxford, 55 pp., £3, March 1980, 9780192119322
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... 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 ...

Three Poems

Michael Hofmann, 10 September 1992

... Diplomatic 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 ...

Two Poems

Michael Hofmann, 6 May 1982

... Nicotine 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. Diablerie Your ringed hands clutch your elbows. In your arms is someone else’s child, a black-eyed baby girl dressed like His Satanic Majesty in a red romper suit: a gleeful crustacean, executing pincer movements ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 mine-entrances from the last century, narrow-gauge railways, powdery cement-factories ...

Two Poems

Michael Hofmann, 1 October 1981

... Austria 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 unfathomable ...

Two Poems

Michael Hofmann, 18 October 1984

... Catechism 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 polyfilla ...

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. November 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 of whatever crust cracks yellow, milling early birds, Styrofoam beaker of coffee, refill, refill, and a spot of red-eye gravy ...

Three Poems

Michael Hofmann, 2 July 1998

... Ingerlund 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. Parerga In the bedside drawer of a hotel room in the black naugahyde and pigtail German Eighties, I came upon the Yellow Pages and a Gideon Bible, one of them – which one? – pregnant with the local chickenhawk guide ...

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 sister poured water over her ...

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 ...

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 into the triangular apex of the studio, against twenty feet of northlight, now darkness and fog ...

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, the second term in any calculation ...

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