Poet to Watch: Richie Hofmann

photo by Joe Hofmann Photography

photo by Joe Hofmann Photography

On today’s Poet to Watch, Richie Hofmann is up to show us how the lyrical mode in poetry is done.

Many critics have called his work “elegant“, which is pretty precise considering how he combines high-art themes of love and architecture, empire and ruin, in order to create these small nuggets of music that are less tapas bar and more 5-course meal. Winner of prestigious sward including the Ruth Lilly Poetry Fellowship and the Beatrice Hawley Award for his book Second Empire (Alice James Books Nov 2015) his major prizes and publications were rewarded for such taut and intense work, such as his poem “Idyll”, which appeared in The New Yorker:

“Cicadas bury themselves in small mouths
of the tree’s hollow, lie against the bark tongues like amulets,
though it is I who pray I might shake off this skin and be raised
from the ground again. I have nothing
to confess. I don’t yet know that I possess
a body built for love.[…]”

During these times of war and fear mongering, how ruin is acknowledged by the speaker of this poem as a vehicle to “be raised/ from the ground again” is inspiring.

In Richie’s own words:

“The responsibility of the poet is to gather and experience pain and loneliness and joy and sexual love…and to cultivate and to arrange those experiences into something beautiful, something worth paying attention to. I think poetry should create a space where close attention, deep attention, obsessive attention is valued and rewarded. I guess that’s a responsibility of art, in general. Poetry has a harder time, as others have said, because our medium is the medium of most forms of communication. We must reconcile the everydayness and urgency and ubiquity of our medium with the space of deeper attention our poems create.”

Any advice for young writers?

“I always tell my students, there are no rules in writing, only conventions which they must be guided by or artfully/studiously not be guided by. And also, less is more. And also, more is more.”

What I’ve learned from Richie Hofmann’s work is that, indeed, less is more. What he does with just a few lines I typically do in three times as many. I admire how he knows how far to take it while still leaving his readers wanting more. In life, it’s all about the balance of working hard and playing hard and these poems know how to exemplify both while making it look easy.

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I’ll leave you with this poem from the Poetry Foundation called  “Keys to the City”:

“Didn’t rain choke the animal throats
of the cathedral sputter
against the roofs of the city didn’t the flight
of stairs rise up above the cobbled street
didn’t the key clamor
in the lock flood
the vestibule with clattering  didn’t we climb
the second flight
toward the miniature Allegory
painted on the ceiling
and touch the flat-faced girls
winged  part animal
who did not flinch and did not scamper”

Who are other great poets we should feature on our website, and what do you think about Richie Hofmann’s work? Comment below.


For more about Richie Hofmann, please visit http://www.richiehofmann.com.


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Phillip Williams
Phillip B. Williams is the author of the forthcoming book of poetry Thief in the Interior (Alice James Books 2016). He is a recipient of several scholarships to Bread Loaf Writing Conference, a graduate of Cave Canem, and one of five winners of 2013’s Ruth Lilly Fellowship. Phillip received his MFA in Writing at Washington University in St. Louis and is currently the poetry editor of the online journal Vinyl Poetry.
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