A noted critic celebrates the arts.
In this vibrant collection of previously published essays, poet, critic and translator Hofmann (Poetry and Translation/Univ. of Florida; Selected Poems, 2009, etc.) elevates criticism to an art. He amply fulfills his aim to “investigate and animate” his subjects, “make them resonate, play with and in and over them….” Many of those subjects are poets, including Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Lowell, Ted Hughes, Seamus Heaney, Basil Bunting and John Berryman. But Hofmann also extends his “noticings” to painter Max Beckmann, writer and artist Kurt Schwitters, and Austrian playwrights Arthur Schnitzler and Thomas Bernhard. He considers Günter Grass’ belated admission of SS membership (“The horrible suspicion arises that Grass’ deepest project here is the destruction of meaning. Not so much ‘peeling the onion’ as ‘applying the whitewash’ ”). Hofmann also reflects on Antonioni’s movie The Passenger, “a mystery or a mystification” that he found especially powerful. Among the most luminous essays are those responding to poets and their work. The Bishop-Lowell correspondence, writes Hofmann, reads like “an epistolary novel” that reveals “an ideally balanced, ideally complex account of a friendship, a race, a decades-long conspiracy, a dance (say, a tango?).” Bishop emerges as the more sympathetic of the two, offering “arresting and beautiful observations” and genuine interest in her friend; Lowell, on the other hand, “seems to endow even people quite close to him…with very little reality.” An admiring essay on Bishop notes her reticence to engage in the confessional poetry in which Lowell indulged, but an equally admiring essay on Lowell calls him “heroic.” “To say that anyone who cares about poetry should read Lowell is not enough….Anyone who cares about writing, or about art, or about life, should read Lowell.”
As these passionate essays attest, Hofmann cares deeply: about writing, art and the creative possibilities of criticism.