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This review is taken from PN Review 194, Volume 36 Number 6, July - August 2010.

WINTER JOURNEY MICHAEL HULSE, The Secret History (Arc) £9.99

In The Secret History poet and translator Michael Hulse has written a collection of autobiographical poems which trace a painful, twenty-year journey of self-discovery: ‘finding a sense of being at home in my own life has involved coming to terms with the difficult legacies of the two nations, England and Germany, that were given to me at birth’. The result is both courageous and moving. The first two sections, a substantial part of the book – and, with the poem ‘Winterreise’, arguably the finest – deal with Hulse’s relationships with his father, his mother and her German family.

One is confident of the book’s artistry – not always the first consideration in such work – from its opening poem, ‘Caput Mortuum’, which beautifully explores an idealised image of home through the artist’s creation of pigment, of ‘our purest blue’. Then follows ‘To my Father’, a poem in 24 parts which seeks understanding of an educated, inquisitive man:

you tell me that a hundred years ago
the chives once planted by the legion
stationed here at Walltown
were growing in the grasses still, sixteen centuries on.

From his father’s human failings, the poet learns to accept that ‘nothing human should be strange to me’. His relationship with his mother and grandparents seems more vexed. ‘To my Father’ describes her alienation in post-war England and the accident that killed her. In ‘All Saints’ Day in Konz’ we hear of

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