Where Have You Been? is the title of a new collection of Michael Hoffman essays, an early contender for my book of the year. It's published by Faber, and a snip at thirty quid.
Hoffman is a German-born poet and translator and (give or take a couple of years) my contemporary. I see him, not unsentimentally, as a kindred spirit. This may be because, like me, he doesn't own a television and (again like me) doesn't regard this as an affectation.
But he reads what I read, or has read what I feel I should read, and he writes about what he reads in prose that is, it strikes me, exemplary. He has blind spots (Auden, Larkin) but nobody's perfect.
Above all he is brilliant at the endangered art of close reading - of particular poems by Robert Lowell and Ian Hamilton for instance, that prompt in me two reactions: that I must re-read the poems in question and do so with Hoffman's eye and ear. Because he is so acute, so finely-tuned, that he applies defibrillators to the work under consideration. He makes it new.
Reading his latest book over the past few days (and rationing myself as this sort of thing doesn't come along often enough to gobble up) has reactivated my long-dormant interest in Ted Hughes, a poet I once admired but lost track of decades ago. There are wonderful pieces on Ian Hamilton, W. S. Graham, Kurt Schwitters (and many German writers unknown to me) and a brief evisceration of Gunter Grass. Apart from the minor irritation of American spelling ('ocher' in particular made me double-take) this is a book I'll savour throughout 2015.