Michael Hofmann is a poet and translator from the German. His latest translation is of Berlin Alexanderplatz by Alfred Döblin, and his new book of poems is One Lark, One Horse. He teaches at the University of Florida.
 (October 2018)


The Lion in Winter

Günter Grass, Berlin, 1993

Of All That Ends

by Günter Grass, translated from the German by Breon Mitchell
Not long ago, I translated “Aging as a Problem for Artists” by the German expressionist poet and essayist Gottfried Benn, written a couple of years before he died, in 1956, at age seventy. There is not much literature on the subject, Benn says, apologizing for his magpie methods, before, with …

‘An Adorable Bookling’

Robert Walser

Looking at Pictures

by Robert Walser, translated from the German by Susan Bernofsky, with additional translations by Lydia Davis and Christopher Middleton
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

The Country Road: Stories

by Regina Ullmann, translated from the German by Kurt Beals
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

The Kraus Project: Essays by Karl Kraus

translated from the German and annotated by Jonathan Franzen, with assistance and additional notes from Paul Reitter and Daniel Kehlmann
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.

Lucky Hans and Other Merz Fairy Tales

by Kurt Schwitters, translated from the German and with an introduction by Jack Zipes, and with illustrations by Irvine Peacock
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.