41. Impromptus

Introduction to Impromptus

by Michael Hofmann 

from Impromptus: Selected Poems and Some Prose, Gottfried Benn, translated and edited by Michael Hofmann


ImpromptusThough Gottfried Benn can scarcely be said to exist in the English-speaking world, there are a surprising number of prominent mentions of him. T. S. Eliot, for instance, in his essay „The Three Voices of Poetry“ goes so far as to associate one such voice—the first, „the voice of the poet talking to himself—or to nobody“—with Benn. John Berryman allows him the end of one Dream Song, no. 53: „and Gottfried Benn / said: —We are using our own skins for wallpaper and we cannot win.“ In his novel Plexus Henry Miller is careful to leave the 1927 issue of Eugene Jolas’s avant-garde magazine, transitions, lying around, and quotes in extenso from Benn’s essay in it. Frank O’Hara has a tilt at him in one of his invariably disastrous and perplexing diatribes, when he seems to have his ill-fitting Hector the Lecturer suit on: „Poetry is not instruments / that work at times / then walk out on you / laugh at you old / get drunk on you young / poetry’s part of your self“ („To Gottfried Benn“).


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