Friday, June 13, 2008

12. Fine Adjustments - Michael Hofmann

I’m a day behind. No chance yesterday and I’m writing something today in spite of feeling tired, but I’ll catch up in due course.

Hard to decide which two poems to choose from what remains of the Acrimony section. I’ve gone for the last two in the book, Fine Adjustments (today) and Old Firm (tomorrow).

Fine Adjustments is a good poem. It leaves plenty of questions but the connections it makes aren’t the obvious ones. I like the beginning:

By now, it is almost my father’s arm,
a man’s arm, that lifts the cigarettes to my mouth

That sense that MH is becoming like his father is then complicated when we learn that they have just had a bitter argument. There have been previous arguments during which MH left a note with a Joseph Roth quote saying he had no father, but that his friend had one, “as though he had a parrot or a St Bernard.”

MH recalls his jibes at his father when younger and remembers his father chasing him round a table, falling, and breaking the arm he was going to spank him with. The connection with those first lines in the poem (quoted above) are intriguing and admit a multiplicity of interpretations.

The current argument has a long history and MH doesn’t try to assign blame. There’s a tension between father and son that is maintained throughout the poem. Although MH records his own jibing, there’s also a feeling of him not being listened to. The radio was always on and no one could speak over it. MH described his own part in the relationship in several memorable lines, from which I’ve picked out:

I was a moving particle, like the skidding lights
in a film-still. Provoking and of no account

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