When Daniel Hoffman published a brief volume of selected poems in England, the Times Literary Supplement praised “his zestful verbal performance, supple use of rhyme and other sound effects” that “make the processes of his writing interesting.” That same vitality and interest inform Hang-Gliding from Helicon, which presents more than forty new poems and a generous selection from six of Hoffman’s previous books. Commenting on the most recent of these in the Southern Review, Monroe K. Spears wrote, “Hoffman’s new volume seems to me to establish his claim to the title of major poet.” In the New Republic, Josephine Jacobsen observed: “Three major strands knit into a strong texture: myth, history, and immediate experience…What he once wrote of Robert Graves is true of his own work: both combine ‘A Dionysian compulsion to belief with an Apollonian clarity of presentation.’”
In the opening piece of this volume, entitled “The Poem,” Hoffman writes:
True to itself, by what craft
And strength it has, it has come
As a sole survivor returns
From the steep pass.
Carved on memory’s staff
The legend is nearly decipherable.
It has lived up to its vows
If it endures
The journey through the dark places
To bear witness,
Casting its message
In a sort of singing.
Hoffman’s poetry is a celebration of life, yet some of his poems have dark implications. “The City of Satisfactions” is a journey into the haunted heart of the American dream. “The Center of Attention” portrays a suicidal man being taunted by a crowd to jump from a bridge, and “Witnesses” explores the aftermath of a car wreck on a desolate stretch of rural highway.
Each of Hoffman’s poems represents a striking response to the moments of being alive. Hang-Gliding from Helicon affirms the power of poetry to make possible the acceptance and transformation of life. Daniel Hoffman has given us a remarkable statement of his deep poetic faith.
Former poet laureate, Daniel Hoffman (1923—2013) published fourteen books of poetry, including The Whole Nine Yards, Beyond Silence, and Brotherly Love, a finalist for both the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. His honors include the Arthur Anse prize for “a distinctive poet” from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and, from the Sewanee Review, the Aiken-Taylor Award for Contemporary American Poetry. He was the author of many critical studies, including Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe, also a National Book Award finalist. He taught at Swarthmore College and at the University of Pennsylvania, where he was the Felix Schelling Professor of English Emeritus.
Found an Error? Tell us about it.