Sunday, June 08, 2008

8. Nighthawks - Michael Hofmann

Shifting forward a few pages (and missing several good poems along the way), I come to Nighthawks, dedicated to James Lasdun. The narrator and friend (MH and JL? Hard of course to know where fiction begins and ends in any poem) have missed the second-last train. The late evening around the station is full of derelicts, prostitutes, “shoals of men laughing off their fear,” a hamburger joint…

For me the poem revolves around this line, addressed to the narrator’s friend:

your hollow darkness survives even in this place.

The darkness isn’t a negative quality. In the poem, the street-lamps are described as “snakes’ heads”, the “neon” burger bar is a “bright hole,” a hospital is “lit like a toy.” The darkness seems preferable to MH, as if it’s important that it survives the neon. It’s that “weight” that ABJ mentioned in a previous comment, a gravity taking its place within a too airy world. The fourth stanza is both tragic and uneasily (as ever) funny:

I met a dim acquaintance, a man with the manner
of a laughing-gas victim, rich, frightened and jovial.
Why doesn’t everyone wear pink, he squeaked.
Only a couple of blocks are safe in his world.

So the men laugh off their fear in S2, the laughing man is frightened and jovial in S4, but the narrator’s friend’s darkness survives the onslaught. It’s like a Hofmann manifesto, without a trace of preachiness creeping in.

1 comment:

Tony Williams said...

Rob, just to say I'm enjoying your readings of one of my favourite poets.

You said in an earlier post how Hofmann was 'political without thumping any tubs' - here the closing image of the 'castellated factory - a folie de grandeur of late capitalism' seems to me just that. It appears such a lucidly political close, yet resists paraphrase.