There are 103 poems in Michael Hofmann’s Selected Poems and only 30 days in the month, so I can’t cover every poem. Usually, I’ll do one a day.
Family Holidays is like a rehearsal for later poems about the writer’s family, particularly his father, also a writer, with whom he had an uneasy relationship. The family are on holiday in the sun. The father sits inside typing, the mother staggers about “like a nude”, attempting to run things. The sisters sunbathe endlessly, the little brother plays with other small kids. The poem ends:
…Every day, I swam further out of my depth
but always, miserably, crawled back to safety.
So there’s a longing to escape, a longing to live dangerously – but feelings of dependence always win over. Not a happy existence, from Hofmann’s point of view. Each member is contained in his/her separate stanza. The plural title suggests this wasn't just one holiday, but a constant state of affairs.
The most striking image is of the mother. She is wearing clothes – a hat, high heels and swimsuit. Yet, Hofmann tells us that she “staggered about like a nude.” The staggering makes me think of drink. If she had been nude, it would have been an immediately shocking image. I’m thinking Isabella Rossellini towards the end of Blue Velvet. But “like a nude” is somehow even more of a shock – the fact that she’s clothed and still seems naked. There’s a vulgarity exposed (so to speak) in the juxtaposition of “like a nude/ in her sun hat, high heels and bathing-costume.”