Richie Hofmann's New Orbit of Intimacy

by Mark William Norby

Bay Area Reporter

Wednesday March 30, 2022

Poet Richie Hofmann
Poet Richie Hofmann  (Source:Marcus Jackson)

Writer Serge Doubrovsky first coined the term autofiction, also called autobiographical fiction, in 1977 with reference to his novel "Fils." Dubrovsky was French. Therefore, autofiction is considered a French invention.

But autofiction is seen as far back as in the writings of James Joyce in his legendary novel "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man." Joyce's novel combines memoir and fiction in order to detail the character's interior monologue and psychic realities over emphasis on the external.

Recently published in The New Yorker and New York Review of Books, San Francisco poet Richie Hofmann achieves all of the above.

French autofiction inspired Hofmann's intimate new collection, "A Hundred Lovers" (Knopf, February 8, 2022). The grit and sacrifice required to understand the sense of beauty and sorrow are deftly captured in the book, and his poetry is an endeavor of commitment to the rendering and refinement of form. It's a work that encapsulates, touching environment, carnal, psychic, and deeply erotic worlds.

Hofmann was awarded a Stegner Fellowship at Stanford University, followed by an appointment to Jones Lecturer in Poetry, also at Stanford, where he currently teaches. To understand his innovative dialectics, it is worth paying a short visit to his first release, "Second Empire" (Alice James Books, November 3, 2015) through the poem, "At the Palais Garnier":

We always arrived late,

sometimes in masks. You wore a sword

at your side. The heads that watched

our little pageant were busts of the great composers

and not men lined up for the executions.

The style was Second Empire,

but the empire had already fallen

by the time the façade was finished.

The casts changed seasonally

like our lovers. I remember,

through black-lace fans, Hänsel & Gretel

eating a garish cake in the darkness.

We covered our mouths

when we laughed at the children trapped

in the house of sweets. We ate cake at intermission

in order to stay awake.

A very notable collection worth owning. Now transport yourself to the present and read "Bottom's Dream":

The less he can see me, smell me, hear me, and taste me the better. It's by design, Madonna

playing, my shirt open, another season entirely

outside, where we spill out onto an almost-winter street:

I remember smoke drifted from his lips

making Rococo shapes, his mouth sticky.

The limestone walls making us so hairy and dynamic

by contrast. I think of those paintings kept behind a curtain in a perverted bishop's collection.

Don't I know then: my death will be a thin fabric

he kisses me through. Fuck. I shouldn't say that:

I'm from New Jersey, my dad was an executive, my fantasies

of violence are trite.

Still, I thought it; everything humid

for a minute, the lindens shedding globby tears.

Then in "The Fables":

In school, we read a ridiculous story by Aesop,

one not involving wise or foolish animals or insects, but one in which a god

allocates emotions

to the parts of the body. Intellect to the mind, Love

to the heart, etc. etc., until only the asshole is left,

to which the god assigns Shame. Understandably, Shame is unhappy with the

accommodations, but it's too late. Shame

curses, "If Eros should ever seek to occupy that place,

I will leave the body for good." This is why

homosexuals have no shame, according to Aesop,

or one of his Victorian translators. According to me, this is why there is no

moral order

to my sexual imagination, and why, praising my looks and hair and white flesh

as I lie with you, then falling

silent for days at a time, you really are the master of my pain.

Great poetry is worth more than the sum of its parts: Worth more than verse, meter, line breaks, rhythm; more than person, place, emotion, and psychic atmosphere. Poetry is both the analysis combined with arising emotions of bodies in space performing through subjects with objects in time.

Thus, we have the opportunity to wrestle with our own psychic shame and the ability to grow and free ourselves from that dark world of society and childhood. This gives way to higher self, self-respect, and respect for others.

Identity becomes personhood through the vehicle of a given artistic medium. In Hofmann's longer poem "The Arab Baths," the poet breathes over us in unmitigated physicality in relation to heat and steam, to the smells of lavender, red amber, flower of pomegranate; the mint of the tea, candles in the dark, men in different stages of life together in an aural and oral cell of flesh desiring intimacy with flesh at times held at bay, but nevertheless triumphant in the ability to deliver us unity.

The great reward: Presence entering self with other, in a slice out of time, the poem a little universe more than time itself. It is lasting, universal, and it is our own.

Look for "A Hundred Lovers" at the Castro's independent bookstore Fabulosa Books (489 Castro St.). Reliable online sources include Powells.com and Albertine.com — books in French and English.

www.richiehofmann.com

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