“Famous Poets” Michael Hofmann

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A Poem About Poets? Must Be April.


April is poetry month. Calloo! Callay! (As they used to say.)

To celebrate, the august and top-paying poetry journal, Poetry, penciled in Michael Hofmann as its lead-off batter in their April 2020 edition. The poem? “Famous Poets.”

Until the last stanza, the poets are plural and the pronouns “he” and “she” are used. But, in the end, the poem finishes with the line “On his way somewhere,” leading one to believe it might be about a particular famous poet (as if there were many to choose from).

I would say the tone is humorous throughout, with a more serious undercurrent, but then, what do I know, being a poet five times removed from his distant cousin in Kazakhstan, fame.

I’ll say this. The poem dares to use the word “plethora,” a word famous for being avoided. Cheers for that. And Hofmann himself, though he apparently has written five collections of poetry, is not famous. Or at least not famous enough for me to know. (Consider the source, however, as the only famous living poet I know is St. Billy of Collins.)

Note, too, how the final stanza swings its elbows more with the opinions, as if Hofmann’s alter ego took over for the finish with a flourish. Previous to that, it’s almost avuncular in its approach, as if Hofmann knows the ropes and is gently amused. In the end, though? Less so.

I’m not sure I appreciate it as much as I would if I were a veteran warrior of the poetry circuits. I’m not. Me, I’ve only had minor experience with poets and learned a few hard lessons about a few personalities, all decidedly not famous but all willing to dream the dream and express their opinions as if they were.

How about you? Are you famous enough to understand all the allusions Hofmann offers? Give it a go and let me know!


Famous Poets
Michael Hofmann

Privileged inhabitants of a biotope of vouchers,
disbursements and residencies; miracles of state support
and a surprising plethora of who-knew international systems;
experts at putting the bite on the hand.

Languishing behind iconic early photographs
of themselves in camps, at borders, over war zones,
canvassing the trouble spots;
no longer to be met with at home, wherever that was.

Un peu partout, then (means: angry everywhere).
Their one vein is praise, though only
of the austerely praiseworthy. Bread. Tea. Salt.
Their second: speechless indignation, yards of it.

They put the bien in pensant. Papabile in age (though see also: mamabile).
The love life makes an agreeable pasture.
The personal is/is not political.
Faithful bonds, or, conversely, his/her sterling appetites.

But orthodox stuff. Mother and father position.
Comfortingly behind the times. The men strong, silent,
oh-so-performing, the women granted/claiming all of two modes:
the abject pine and the wowingly satisfied.

Poems that, because anyone might have written them,
appeal to everyone. That resist the understanding not at all,
that barely engage it. Atlanta airport. A vision of Yevtushenko
in yellow. A loud suit. On his way somewhere.