Michael Hofmann is a poet and translator. He teaches at the ­University of Florida. His latest translation, of Jakob Wassermann’s My Marriage, was reviewed in the last issue.
 (June 2016)

‘An Adorable Bookling’

Robert Walser
If only the word “bibelot” had been a diminutive of “biblio-,” book, instead of a cognate of “bauble,” then I could have described Looking at Pictures as an ideal bibelot, a robust little hardback to slip into the pocket and take out to read in the elevator, say, without spoiling …

A Puzzling Heroine of German Literature

Regina Ullmann; painting by Lou Albert-Lasard, 1915
It’s tempting to adapt Tolstoy’s famous sentence about families and say that good books or good writers tend to be good in the same ways. Certainly, if you encounter something that is radically different you are liable to suspect, and perhaps to go on suspecting for a long time, that …

Torch Song in Vienna

Karl Kraus; portrait by Alfred Hegel
Karl Kraus reminds me of those indomitable little toy automobiles exhibited on trays by their vendors, which strike the parapet, roll over, right themselves, and carry on regardless, as long as their batteries will drive them. And presumably with an unwavering sense of mission and purpose. Not to mention direction. Kraus wrote: “When I don’t make any progress, it is because I have bumped into the wall of language. Then I draw back with a bloody head. And would like to go on.” It would seem he had the same idea.

Joseph Roth: Going Over the Edge

Joseph Roth, Paris, circa 1925
Nothing to parents (but Joseph Roth never saw his father, Nahum, who went mad before he knew he had a son, and reacted to his overproud and overprotective mother, Miriam, or Maria, to the extent that he sometimes claimed to have her pickled womb somewhere). Nothing to his wife (poor, …

Artist of Everything

Kurt Schwitters: Merzz. 96 Standing Yellow, 6 x 4 3/4 inches, 1920; from the exhibition ‘Kurt Schwitters: Color and Collage,’ on view at the Menil Collection, Houston, through January 30, 2011. The catalog, edited by Isabel Schulz, has just been published by the museum and Yale University Press. Illustrations (c) 2010 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn.
Kurt Schwitters, who was born in Germany in 1887, was a painter, a poet, and, most famously, a collagist. He loved to play with expressive or artistic systems of every type, whether they were alphabets, numbers, colors, languages, or music. He composed sonatas out of sounds (including a sneeze), poems …


Both the Sicilies and olives in black and green. Two shades of wine, two fatherlands: the day called yester- and the one called tomorrow. Outside my friends go by with their several realities, my enemies with their common purpose.

Herr Wehner

This is mine Herr Wehner he was our house-tutor died early of phthisis once he’d infected my youngest brother who died of meningitis tuberculosa. Came from Lissa son of a blacksmith always went around in wooden clogs which was …

Passengers with Heavy Loads

The following was published in 1923 in the Berliner Börsen-Courier, for which, among many other papers, Joseph Roth was a correspondent in the years before he published The Radetzky March. Passengers with heavy loads take their place in the very last cars of our endless trains, alongside “Passengers with Dogs” …