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This review is taken from PN Review 197, Volume 37 Number 3, January - February 2011.

SAYING IS BELIEVING GÜNTER EICH, Angina Days: Selected Poems, translated by Michael Hofmann (Princeton) £16.95

Contemporary literature would be a great deal duller, sparser and more insular without Michael Hofmann. A brilliantly distinctive poet, he is also a passionate, provocative and compelling literary essayist – as enthusiastic as he is caustic, as exuberant as he is enlightening. Hofmann’s poetry has, from the first, kept its distance from conventional English. Born in Freiburg in 1957, and fathered by the novelist Gert Hofmann, he twins English with German, occupying an echoic space between the two. Like all good poets (and certain twins, for that matter, too), he has forged an entirely personal patois. Not surprisingly – as with another German-born poet-critic, Michael Hamburger – Hofmann is a noted translator from German into English. Unlike Hamburger, however, his translations of fiction (by writers as various as Joseph Roth, Beat Sterchi, Herta Müller and Hans Fallada) vastly exceed his translations of poetry. The air of urban ennui that pervades some of Hofmann’s best poems has certainly not extended to his personal practice as a writer. His bibliography is the longest of his generation.

In recent years, a growing convergence of the poet Hofmann and the translator Hofmann has been evident. Many of his own translations were included in his Faber Book of 20th-Century German Poems (2005), and he singlehandedly raised Durs Grünbein to prominence in English through Ashes for Breakfast (2005). Since then, his translations of Gottfried Benn and Günter Eich have been appearing in periodicals, raising hopes of full-length Hofmann selections in translation. Angina Days, ...


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