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This report is taken from PN Review 231, Volume 43 Number 1, September - October 2016.

Little Island Andrew Latimer
ON RECEIVING HIS receiving his first published collection of poetry, the poet, translator and touted ‘intellectual vagabond’ Michael Hofmann recalled how his initial sense of achievement was followed by an acute onset of existential horror: the thin book, several years in the making, was so insubstantial that it could have blown away had he not been clutching it so tightly – for dear life, one might say. At around forty-eight pages, however, Hofmann’s Nights in the Iron Hotel (Faber, 1983) is no shorter than most first collections. So what was he expecting?

Poetry has always sat somewhat awkwardly in the book market. Not only are sales of poetry titles slower than most other genres/modes of writing, but the physical manifestation of the poetry book is (often) somehow less than the sum of its parts. Let me explain.

Like Hofmann, most good poets will spend a considerable number of years (I will posit five as the average) working up their first collection into a book-length work. Five years, let’s say, for a measly fifty pages. To the non-poetry reader, the task must appear positively Sisyphean. Compare it with the budding novelist: spending the same amount of time composing a first work, the novelist will ordinarily produce something of around 250 pages. That’s fifty pages per year compared with the debut poet’s ten – not that that’s how it works at all. Neither the poet nor the novelist has worked harder than the other over those five years (maybe the novelist has typed ...

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