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This review is taken from PN Review 68, Volume 15 Number 6, July - August 1989.

FAMILY TIES Michael Hofmann, Acrimony (Faber) £3.95
Ian Hamilton, Fifty Poems (Faber) £4.95

The first section of Michael Hofmann's Acrimony suggests consolidation rather than a significant extension of range: as in his first collection, Nights in the Iron Hotel, the patterns of alienation proliferate as he examines, characteristically from a vantage point which itself implies distance or dissociation, a world whose disparate fragments repeatedly fail to cohere. A traveller without apparent goal, a temporary occupant of rented rooms and other peoples' homes, he hovers - to use his own phrase - "on the margins", keenly observant, subtly voyeuristic.

It is in the clarity of his perception and delineation that the strength of these poems lies; the tacky urban street-scapes with their "broken glass, corrugated tin and spray-gunned plywood", their mounds of refuse and their shabby denizens, are particularly sharply realized. But Hofmann too often seems uncertain what to do with his clever and meticulous observations, piling them up in catalogue form for our admiration, somehow failing (and this is of course the inherent risk of his disengaged stance) to get to the heart of things:


Prefabs ran down the back of the Applied Psychology
     Unit.
Pigeons dilated. The flies were drowsy from eating
the water-lilies on the pond. A snake had taken care of
the frogs. Fuchsias pointed their toes like ballerinas.


The triteness of that last simile is symptomatic of a more general weakness; one is repeatedly disturbed by the sense of an acute intelligence demanding too ...


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