Friday, June 06, 2008

6. Nights in the Iron Hotel, and Body Heat - Michael Hofmann

I couldn’t decide whether to choose Nights in the Iron Hotel or Body Heat today, so I’ll mention both.

Nights in the Iron Hotel, also the title of MH’s first collection, is set in a Prague hotel room. A couple confess infidelity and talk all night about separating. They are self-aware to the point of obsession, but there’s a cold distance about it all, despite the wall decorations which produce a darkly comical “Palm Beach effect”. The chill is mirrored in the room’s setting and in the name, ‘Iron Hotel’. The narrator pushes beds together which had been “at a hospital distance”, although the act doesn’t exactly bring the couple closer together. It’s an eerie poem written in a plain style, discomforting and effective. The poem is equally bleak and funny, if that doesn’t sound like one juxtaposition too far. The most haunting image comes right at the end:

The TV stays switched on all the time.
Dizzying socialist realism for the drunks.
A gymnast swings like a hooked fish.

Body Heat involves two people waking up in bed together – in a scene of poverty and bottled-up anger. There are some great images, but what’s most interesting is the return to the hedgehog/leaves image of the first poem, White Noise. In that poem, the loner in his room is swept into a corner, “delirious, trembling/ a pile of leaves.” In this one:

The poor hedgehogs,
they must help each other to pull off the leaves
that covered them while they were hibernating.

The image contains a crumb or two of hope – the fact that they can help each other – but the very comparison to hedgehogs also suggests genuine desperation.


Anonymous said...

Iron Hotel .. I love this poem.

The 'tender mercies' of the trombone player, the way a description is 'sinister' even though it's not obviously so .. an if it *is* so, perhaps only according to a mind which is somehow out of balance and struggling with internal forces.

And what a great stanza this is:

We are fascinated by our own anaethesia,
our inability to function. Sex is a luxury,
an export of healthy physical economies.

An example I think of the power of a 'plain style' which is employed to say something direct. Hard to pull off, as well, without sounding a bit pat and losing the subtlety or suggestiveness of it.

One of those times where you get a real sense of that definition of a poet as one who makes Good Choices, out of all the thousands of possible ones: and MH has that knack of hitting the right nail.


Rob said...

Yes, terrific poem.

Anonymous said...

Also ... although the poems are generally downbeat, you never get the sense he's being maudlin. There's usually a little sting of black humour to it, somehow. Something self-knowing.


Anonymous said...

Also ... although the poems are generally downbeat, you never get the sense he's being maudlin. There's usually a little sting of black humour to it, somehow. Something self-knowing.


Background Artist said...

a crunb or two, is it enough to rescue his inner soul from collapse general feelings of alienation and desperateness engenders in s/he rakced in the locked cycle of drug and alcohol depressions, addictions, tortured selves so unhappy: are some worth reading?

buying, of course, all colleagues in the guild, all flat-poodles flapping, making the debutante feel Included in Pictish culture, Iona, ballydehob, lots of islands Eoin og, young dynasty maker, total rards, like bhard on.

Hoffman, i have only read the outline of his education..ooch!! trinity, st hildas, aloof, polyglot, right up my street, but the and of the Arm It Age, laughably over methinks.

the searier the effin better, Ramsey, i wld work for a few days, and then when he blew, blow back and toss summat at him, whilst ranting as Rambo tried to strip me of all confidence.

And though it is not Ramsey fault, so many young people first composing in the near post noughtie climate, lots of eff this and effing (cont.) and generally, childish, but marvelous release, An Mhuman bhard who immediately springs to mind is Riogh of mister McCools seven tined wheel, six interlacing metrics, sonatas riffed, the work of our betters, rifled, no shame, just commen sense Hoffman is exquisite a bejayus, decent fella who i love more each time i pretend to read him.

Not having had the pleasure (neither much of Milton) and busy with Geoffrey K, learning Hoffman's lore, on the grand scale, alas i fear may be only here, but enough as i know his face and am an ardent supporter, both financially and spiritually, a perfect bind, a hostage to Hoff, loved up Ramsey once, before he got too effed out of it in his precious shite kitchen, eff the (cont) Gods ronnie sillimen effin knows mac Nichols, they are Us macca mate, yr eye and me, close in the century of closest private friends, filtered through with cut throat precision, spammed in, and Hoff, driving that talking exquisite version of a humanoid car and Deutshland uber alles, always berlin, Cologne, Dresden, Hambirg, a kip, rock saints george john paul and richard, marvelously modo ooh argh noo, no under-mesh shared by B russels' kiwi kuku mooer self, the plassie acting all black Gladitor, not gord's effing beef, not that effing beef...where the feck is mty beef...what, eff off, get out Ransey yr no longer intergral to my cooking masterplan, EXECUTIVE chef, yr 'avin a laugh Ramsey, eff off, stop hounding me, why, why this Hell's Kitchen of total humilatiuon, grow up Ramsey it is not hard or clever to sneer and swear on the pretence yr feckin mister Great, eff off out my effin kicthen yr blerting blue Rambo, go, please just leave and leave us alone, do not insult me again borde gurier ramsey, scanger scumbag is are effin not gettin my effin beef out, so eff off, you lot, come, ohm Ogden Ramsey from Coronation street poetical real telly lore, adult now, (dool)Fer last sagging noo, go and love me ramsey..

Ben Wilkinson said...

"Also ... although the poems are generally downbeat, you never get the sense he's being maudlin. There's usually a little sting of black humour to it, somehow. Something self-knowing."

I totally agree, Andy. Hofmann once said that 'he liked a kind of humour where no one quite dares to laugh', and I think this comes off in most of his best work. I love 'Body Heat'.

As for his educational background though, (which mattes to me about as much as his favourite flavour crisps) I don't think he was at St Hilda's somehow, BA...

Background Artist said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Background Artist said...

Sorry, yr right of course W, mister Hofmann's a Magdalene chap, whose patron founder was Giovanni Florio, an Italian linguistic who adopted England as his own and is called John by the non latin speakers.

Florio, the tudor translator whose name lives on in the private members club called the FS, which a chap of yr intellect, i am assuming can guess means, the Florio Soc, which was set up in 1950's and is for Magdalene poets, who have produced many (men mainly) poets who have gone onto bigger and better things, after attending the do's.

Florio was a convert to the non roman faith which flourished after Henry the V11 got wise and removed the temporal and spiritual bars from murdering his wifes, the mosdt famous being the mother of ER the first, who learned well from her father, as she got the chaps all fighting over praising here.

John F, possibly knew WS very well, as he was a meber of the Cecil set and as a quick fact check delivers:

"His magnum opus is his admirable translation of the Essayes on Morall, Politike, and Millitarie Discourses of Lo. Michaell de Montaigne, published in folio in 1603 in three books, each dedicated to two noble ladies. A second edition in 1613 was dedicated to the Queen."

love and peace..