Saturday, June 07, 2008

7. Ancient Evenings - Michael Hofmann

So I’m onto the selection from Acrimony (1986), one of the most widely admired collections of that decade, and I can see why.

It starts with Ancient Evenings, a recollection of a relationship with a woman named Antonia. MH inserts the tone of romanticism, “but I had you – my Antonia!” into this plain style poem for comic effect. The images are astonishing – the friends being photographed under daft advertisement hoardings, the tins of soup the narrator boils in his kettle – still in their cans! – the ridiculously strong coffee he brews in the dark. And Antonia’s quietness, so great that “it seemed like an invitation/ to be disturbed.”

The poem never quite goes where you think it’s going to go, and the final image is one out of the top drawer of surprises:

..........................................…I sat us both in an armchair
and toppled over backwards. I must have hoped
the experience of danger would cement our relationship.
Nothing was broken, and we made surprisingly little noise.

What seemed like an important relationship meant next to nothing. I guess that’s what he’s trying to say. Also the experience of being young and ‘overheated’, but with no cement.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

And the bit missing from that quoted final stanza sums up a crucial MH quality I think, as mentioned in the previous post:

"My humour was gravity .."

An interesting comparison with someone like Charles Simic, for example, whose dark elements are offset by a kind of weightless comedy. With MH the humour is usually a lighter shade of black and just as heavy as the rest.

ABJ

Background Artist said...
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Rob said...

BA, stop posting long rambling nonsense. Please.

Rob said...

Andy, that's an interesting comparison. I like Simic and I don't think his comedy is always weightless, but yes, in much of his work it seems present as a form of entertainment.