Eric Hoffman’s new book, George Oppen: A Narrative is one of those compelling books that simply takes one over. Hoffman’s introduction celebrates the connected nature of art and biography as he asserts, boldly and with no apology to the contemporary world of criticism ‘To understand a poet’s work it is necessary to understand the life from which it came.’ In dealing with the importance of the years of political focus which occupied the lives of both George and Mary Oppen we are presented with the fundamental importance of the world of poetry as the 1950s encouraged the same convictions that had resulted previously in a creative silence. Almost as if in response to Heidegger’s 1946 essay ‘Why Poets?’ for George Oppen ‘Poetry provided a way out.’
This book not only tells the story of George Oppen but also provides us with some convincing close readings of the texts and this concentrated engagement with the words of the poems themselves brings to our attention one of the phrases Hoffman uses early on: ‘Such a refreshingly measured, carefully weighed and painstakingly crafted verse is especially welcome in an era of countless ephemeral information.’ Poetry is a way of thinking and we are given a compelling sense of how the defining poem of the 1960s, an equivalent of T.S. Eliot’s seminal 1920s modernist poem ‘The Waste Land’, may well be ‘Of Being Numerous’.
It is most appropriate that the Preface to this new Shearsman publication should have been written by Michael Heller whose own poetry and prose featured a year ago in Tears 56: ‘For the reader of the poetry, Hoffman’s narrative carries a kind of electrical charge as event after event becomes both potential and flashpoint for a poem or induces a meditation on the act of writing and remembering.’
This November publication from Shearsman is £14.95 and can be obtained via the website www.shearsman.com
Ian Brinton December 27th 2013