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This review is taken from PN Review 224, Volume 41 Number 6, July - August 2015.

Fag Packet, Bus Ticket and All michael hofmann, Where Have You Been? (Faber & Faber) £30

That a collection of previously solicited reviews written to demand, a ragbag of literary hack work, might make a book interesting enough to be read by anyone from ‘litterateur to layperson’, and to furthermore merit a hardback edition costing thirty pounds, seemed audacious to me. It looked as if the editorial tower of Russell Square was beginning to wobble. But then I didn’t know Michael Hofmann very well, beyond that he was the author of a few books of poetry, a translator, and an editor of Lowell. I distrusted the second-handness of Where Have You Been?, that what we were getting here wasn’t something fresh, composed or particularly coherent. Only with time did I come to appreciate the potency of Hofmann’s introductory statement, ‘I don’t see why books have to be written on purpose, or by design, and from scratch’. This book wasn’t even technically written in the more traditional sense of the word but instead compiled, assembled, and bibliographically ‘translated’ from other contexts. And in the sense that Hofmann is a poet, translator and editor, this book serves as his autobiography in mode and meaning. Yet, in the sense that Hofmann is a critic, a brilliant one at that, this book is not only his Künstlerroman but also a terse and very readable biography of modern poetry since Robert Lowell. Any previous notions of this book’s inconsistency, its disparity or its being too picaresque are swiftly and convincingly dispelled. Hofmann’s taste in poetry is undeniably consistent. 

As well as an autobiography, Where Have You Been? might serve as a manifesto, ...


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