Tuesday, June 10, 2008

10. My Father's House Has Many Mansions - Michael Hofmann

Jumping past many good poems again… But I thought I’d shift to the ‘Father’ poems, which make up the second half of the Acrimony collection.

My Father’s House Has Many Mansions immediately references John’s gospel, chapter 14, a godlike quality to MH’s writer-father. The poem shows MH trying to be like his father, walking with the same posture, wanting to share in his life, but never quite being able to carry it off. The father wears “echoing clogs”, but MH has the “scruffy tennis shoes/ - seen but not heard.” The father calls the shots and MH tries to emulate him, but there’s never an “offer of equality.”

The father has a second house which MH visits, a “half house,” much of it unfurnished. It’s presumably a place where the father writes as well as seeing his “girlfriends,” a place where “family was abasement/ and obligation.”

The poem closes on two images from the garden. Growing bushes scratch the father’s car and a “heraldic plum-tree/ surprises you with its small, rotten fruit.” The images are ambiguous. They could refer to the father’s disappointment, his lack of satisfaction with his life. But the references to “growth” and the word “heraldic” (the connections of the word with genealogy) make me think that it may have reflected the father’s attitude to MH himself – or, at least, the father’s attitude as MH saw it.

Not the most striking poem in this collection, but an important one nevertheless, a poem around which many others seem to revolve.

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