Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Hofmann on poetry, Lowell, Bishop

Two interesting articles by Michael Hofmann in consecutive issues of Poetry magazine: from the February issue, a manifesto, whose most striking moment for me are the remarks 'Ezra Pound said: be against all mortmain. Gottfried Benn said: disappoint the season-ticket holder', which both seem more interesting and substantial expressions of Pound's 'make it new'.

And from the January issue, a review of the correspondence between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell. It's classic Hofmann (as with Randall Jarrell, the primary pleasure of reading Hofmann's prose at its best is for its own performance, however diligently it sticks at its subject matter), for instance in this passage:

How do you filter, assimilate, crunch it down to the space of a review? Its eight-hundred pages of letters—every one of them bearing my ambiguous slashes of delight, interest, controversy, revelation—still left me with eight sheets full of page numbers of my own. It's like starting with a city, and ending up with a phone book—hardly useful as a redaction. Really, I might as well have held a pencil to the margin and kept it there, for bulk re-read.

Lesser bombasts might note how this flight of apparent indulgence manages via that indulgence to say something emphatic (and gracious) about the material under review. (Bombast isn't the right word here, but I've got a PhD to finish this morning and really shouldn't be posting here.)


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