Saturday, June 14, 2008

13. Old Firm - Michael Hofmann

Well, after all the family wars of these poems, the book finishes with Old Firm, which reveals a bond between father and son that goes deeper than surface arguments. There’s no epiphany here, no false hope, but the bond exists in spite of everything.

MH acknowledges that his father kept them fed when young. He wasn’t a bad father in that sense. A thunderstorm makes the family huddle around a phone box to keep dry. It turns them “into a family group.” They even joke together about an interview the father had just given in French – not his best language, but MH understands him. However, the poem ends on a double-edged note:

Who else understood? Your edgy, defeated laugh?
The modest, unhopeful evangelism of your final appeal
to the people of Montreal not to stop reading?

A bond of knowledge holds them together. Despite the sense in earlier poems that his father was unknowable, MH knows him better than anyone, and yet what he knows isn’t necessarily what his father would have chosen to reveal. But the revelation is, in itself, a sign of affection and the final image arrives with MH’s trademark bittersweet humour.

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