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the Complete Review the complete review - poetry

Approximately Nowhere

Michael Hofmann

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To purchase Approximately Nowhere

Title: Approximately Nowhere
Author: Michael Hofmann
Genre: Poetry
Written: 1999
Length: 77 pages
Availability: Approximately Nowhere - US
Approximately Nowhere - UK

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Our Assessment:

B : personal and revealing, written with a fair sense of language, but not completely convincing.

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian B 8/5/99 Robert Potts
The Guardian B 15/1/2000 Robert Potts
New Statesman A- 9/8/99 Adam Newey
The New Yorker . 27/12/99 .
The Times A 24/9/99 Gabriel Josipovici

  Review Consensus:

  A talented poet in the Robert Lowell vein, with reaction to this specific collection generally positive, though the level of enthusiasm varies.

  From the Reviews:
  • "Hofmann is a fine phrase maker, but too many of these later poems are narcissistic and even affected (the foreign tags; the artificiality of his punning and apostrophizing). The self-regard or self-pity or selfishnesses he chronicles do not cease to be repellant merely because they are so well and willingly confessed." - Robert Potts, The Guardian

  • "The lack of motivation can make individual poems unappealing and unsatisfying, but the collection has some virtuoso moments." - Robert Potts, The Guardian

  • "(Hofmann's) skill isn't in tight rhythms so much as in the playful harmonics he sets up - the sly puns and subterranean alliterations, cross- fertilised with occasional borrowings from German, his other mother tongue. The register is casual, cool in the jazz sense, with a hint of blue, like John Coltrane or Miles Davis. (...) when Hofmann is at his best, as he is for much of this book, it's hard to think of a finer poet now writing in Britain." - Adam Newey, New Statesman

  • "In loosely formal lines, (Hofmann) responds soberly to erotic disappointments and familiar betrayals -- a stance that seems designed to preclude melodrama. The strategy works." - The New Yorker

  • "Michael Hofmann is one of our finest translators. He moves with ease between German, English and American cultures and idioms. Less extreme than his father, more at ease in the world, but with his father's compassion for the broken and defeated, he grows in stature with each succeeding book." - Gabriel Josipovici, The Times

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Michael Hofmann reveals himself, in this collection of poems and previous ones, to be somewhat father-obsessed. Papa was an impressive figure, the noted and respected German novelist, Gert Hofmann, but apparently not the most endearing parental figure. Michael Hofmann came to England when he was just a toddler, forsaking fatherland (and father). He turned to literature, but not to follow in dad's imposing footsteps, becoming a writer of second-hand literature instead, a translator. Achieving critical success in the field, he has even tackled some of dad's work.
       Michael Hofmann also took up poetry, in English -- with fair success, as well. Ah, poets and parents: Philip Larkin might have known best about the subject, but he chose not dwell on it too much (his pithy, memorable line sums it up well enough). No such luck with Mikey.
       Gert Hofmann died in 1993, and much of this collection is again a coming-to-terms with dad. A lone poem, Tea for my Father, stands somewhat forlorn at the beginning of the collection, written in 1979 but not included in previous collections (a number of other poems from the 1980s have also been included, the date appended in brackets to differentiate them from the rest). A mix of tension, admiration, fear and love already mark this small poem. Many of the others are similarly ambivalent. There's less anger directed at the father here than in Michael Hofmann's previous collections, a re-evaluation of sorts taking place.
       It's interesting, on occasion, these personal glimpses, and some of the scenes Michael Hofmann sets and sketches are nicely done. His sense of language is also fine, and the verses generally read effortlessly well. There is craft behind his lines; regrettably here it is often to too little effect.
       Among the problems are his forthrightness about so many episodes in his life, a distinct revelling in the sordid, base, and bleak. Accomplished though many of the poems are, there seems little more behind them. Even (or especially) the personal ones seem merely tossed off.
       Not everything centers around dear departed dad, though many of the other poems are in a similar vein. There are exceptions -- the longer Kleist in Paris (written 1982), for example. It makes for an odd selection, not fully convincing.
       The poetry is not bad, but it is hard to be enthusiastic about this collection. Very little stands out. An interesting document for those familiar with Gert Hofmann's life and work, and possibly of interest for those who like their poetry on the literary-but-seamy side. Otherwise: fairly unnecessary.

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Approximately Nowhere: Reviews: Michael Hofmann:
  • Michael Hofmann at Contemporary Writers
  • See our unkind commentary on "one of our finest translators" (as Gabriel Josipovici claims in The Times) tackling the work of the great Volker Braun, in our review of Lustgarten, Preußen
Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Michael Hofmann, born 1957, is the Anglicized son of noted German author Gert Hofmann. A prolific translator and would-be poet, he has won major awards for both undertakings, including the Cholomondeley Award, the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize, and the Schlegel-Tieck Translation prize (twice).

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© 1999-2010 the complete review

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