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This review is taken from PN Review 182, Volume 34 Number 6, July - August 2008.

DREADFUL INDIFFERENCE MICHAEL HOFMANN, Selected Poems (Faber and Faber) £12.99

The first retrospective of Hofmann's 25-year poetic career does not chart the artistic development of its author so much as reveal a deep disillusionment with development itself. From his earliest to his most recent poems, Hofmann bears witness to the ways in which the relationships and experiences of his own life have failed to progress, continue or be consummated. In 'Family Holidays' from Night in the Iron Hotel (1983), Hofmann's family is the centre of gravity inhibiting his escape:

... Every day I swam further out of my depth,
but always, miserably, crawled back to safety.


Yet Hofmann's conviction of the ultimately abortive nature of things does not lessen the blow each time it hits him. 'End of the Pier Show', one of the seven previously unpublished poems included in this selection, depicts the end of a relationship that was for the poet simultaneously destructive and masochistic, and a 'lovely/ puppet theatre'. His avoidance of metaphor or other self-conscious poetic devices makes the rawness of his reaction all the more moving:

When it stopped,
he didn't believe it.
He didn't know what to do.


This preoccupation with falling-off, or fizzling-out, extends to the form of Hofmann's poetry. The lines rarely gather momentum. His frequent recourse to lists, parentheses, irregular metre, ellipses and dissonant sequences of sounds stifles any attempt on the part of the poem to break into a simple or straightforward rhythm. 'On ...


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