Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Saturday, 8 August 2015

"Where have you been?" by Michael Hofmann (Faber and Faber, 2015)

Essays and essay/reviews (from the Guardian, LRB, NYRB, NYT Book Review, Poetry, etc) about some poets writing in English (plus Herbert and Zagajewski), and some prose writers (plus Kurt Schwitters, etc) in German. Readable, entertaining and opinionated.

On Ted Hughes -

  • "Hughes is at least arguably the greatest English poet since Shakespeare", p.99
  • "the most important development in English letters over the last decade or so ... [is] the reemergence or rediscovery of Ted Hughes", p.116

On Basil Bunting -

  • "Imagine Tintin not as a supposed journalist with a cowlick but Haddock-bearded and a rare poet, and you get Bunting", p.124
  • "And the poetry? It's acquired an oddly strategic quality ... Without Bunting, Pound is a greatly diminished figure. ... [Bunting] holds the century together, but almost more important he holds the two sides of the Atlantic together as well", p.131

Other assessments -

  • "The inescapable and true conclusion is that for ten or twenty years around the turn of the millennium there was no better poet writing in English than Les A. Murray", p.170
  • "If I wanted to show someone - an agnostic - what a modern poem can do, I would show them something by Lawrence Joseph, or Frederick Seidel, or Karen Solie", p.185

Lowell looms large. Even an article about Frederick Seidel there's a list of "Lowell features: the Saxon genitive ... the typically stretched Lowell 'and,' the long spelling out of names and the shortening of references, .... the gangling constructions, the hyperbolic modifiers, the plangent negatives, the puns that aren't ... the short lines with heavy rhymes ... the terse, exhausted finishing sentences", p.92. Hofmann tells us about the writers while he comments on their writing. We learn that Lowell and Bishop once went fishing together, and that "When [WS] Graham won a literary prize in 1970, he used it to get an indoor toilet put in", p.143.

Other reviews

  • Ralf Webb (Ambit) (Hofmann extends the scope of ordinary criticism. He cuts deep and runs wild, he burns away the surface, and reminds us that yes, this stuff actually matters.)
  • Nicholas Shakespeare (Telegraph) (a bracingly intelligent book .... Hofmann is as withering as he is passionate)
  • Bruce Whiteman (The Star) (his writing is so rich and deeply informed, at times provocative but mostly just exceedingly well written, that his opinions become secondary to the pleasure it is to read him)
  • Kevin Gildea (Irish Times) (Hofmann does a highly enjoyable hatchet job on the early 20th-century writer Stefan Zweig ... It takes a while to get used to Hofmann’s bobsled ride, with its disconcerting wobbles of style, but he cuts so many clean lines that get to the heart of the matter that it’s well worth crossing the finishing line with him.)
  • William Harris (3am)

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