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Don't Look Back: Poetry and Retrieval

I gave this talk as part of this year's Aldeburgh Poetry Festival




A few years ago I was greatly taken with a poem by the French poet, or Franco-Uruguayan poet Jules Supervielle and ended up translating it. It’s called ‘Le regret de la terre’ and although I didn’t translate the title it might come out as ‘regret for the earth’ or ‘nostalgia for earth’. Since I’m going to be talking about retrieval I thought I might begin with this:


One day we’ll look back on itthe time of the sun when light fell on the smallest twig on the old woman the astonished girl when it washed with colour everything it touched followed the galloping horse and eased when he did
that unforgettable time on earth when if we dropped something it made a noise and like connoisseurs we took in the world our ears caught every nuance of air and we knew our friends by their footsteps
time we walked out to gather flowers or stones that time we could never catch hold of a cloud
and it’s all our hands can master now ( ‘Le regret de l…

Well, Kerrang!!!

Where Have You Been? Selected Essays, By Michael Hofmann, Faber and Faber, 304 pp, £30, ISBN: 978-0571323661

Poet, translator, critic – for Michael Hofmann these different job specifications are all aspects of the same enterprise, projections of the same sensibility. The poetry came first, the reputation established with Nights in the Iron Hotel (1983). That collection and those that followed – Acrimony; Corona, Corona; Approximately Nowhere – introduced a voice that was highly distinctive and very much unlike the general run of British poetry of the time. Sceptical, disenchanted, in some respects almost an anti-poetry, full of brooding absences and short term occupations of empty spaces described with great disruptive brio:

Six floors up, I found myself like a suicide ‑
one night, the last thing in a bare room …
I was afraid I might frighten my neighbours,
two old ladies dying of terror, thinking
every man was the gasman, every gasman a killer ...
(“A Brief Occupation…