Like a hooked fish
Michael Hofmann Faber & Faber, 146pp, £12.99
The Selected Poems of Michael Hofmann are a study of dislocation. From the bitter tenant (“the pubic scrub of this street, I am growing to hate”) to the disenfranchised son struggling with his father (“as though I’d spoken in asides for twenty-five years”), this volume showcases Hofmann’s talent for portraying discord.
Born in Freiburg, Hofmann, who writes in English but “can still play in German” and has lived in England, Poland and America, consistently writes from a position of estrangement. Fractious, autobiographical encounters with his German father are echoed by the unfamiliarity of his birth country: “where I blurt in German, dissatisfied and unproficient/amid the material exhilaration of abstract furniture,/a new car on the Autobahn”.
Hofmann’s explorations of intimacy go against the romantic grain, and metaphors encapsulating the imperfect state of relations spring out of their unlovely settings. In “Nights in the Iron Hotel”, for example, a couple confess infidelity and contemplate inextricable ties while “A gymnast swings like a hooked fish” on the television in the background. These penetrating and disquieting poems should cement Hofmann’s reputation as more than just a prize-winning translator.