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This review is taken from PN Review 38, Volume 10 Number 6, May - June 1984.

DIZZYING REALISM Michael Hofmann, Nights in the Iron Hotel (Faber) £4.00

Hofmann's title poem is typical enough to quote in full:


Our beds are at a hospital distance.
I push them together. Straw matting
on the walls produces a Palm Beach effect:

long drinks made with rum in tropical bars.
The position of mirror and wardrobe
recalls a room I once lived in happily.

Our feelings are shorter and faster now.
You confess a new infidelity. This time,
a trombone player. His tender mercies . . .

All night, we talk about separating.
The radio wakes us with its muzak.
In a sinister way, you call it lulling.

We are fascinated by our own anaesthesia,
our inability to function. Sex is a luxury,
an export of healthy physical economies.

The TV stays switched on all the time.
Dizzying social realism for the drunks.
A gymnast swings like a hooked fish.


This hits an expected nerve in an unexpected way, and we recognize that our own complex perceptions of love, sex, tedium, and recollection in tranquillity, have been twisted. The most meaningful poetry reaches into our most familiar preserves and makes us see the unfamiliarities: Hofmann does this, and at the same time encourages us to realize that tranquillity is mythic and that poetry is a function of unease. He unsettles us, and does it in ways which are both ingenious ...


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