ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

A journal for poetry, criticism, reviews, stories and essays published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998.


Poems from "Emerson in America" by Eric Hoffman.


It was not that long ago
That men in distant countries
Were painted as monstrous bodies,
Reckless, with tails, & c.

But commerce contradicted these reports.
Then they were accused
Of possessing monstrous minds –
Thieves, sottish, promiscuously mixed –

Yet commerce exposed that slander
& shows that as a face
Answereth to a face in the water,
So the heart of man to man.


A good sentence or verse
Is like a fine statue,

A beautiful cornice,
An Oxford staircase,

A noble painted head.
One writes on the air

If he speaks, but
He writes on a mind

More durable than marble
& begets Nations,

Launches out from the Infinite
& builds roads into Chaos.


Philosophies are judged
By the standing or following
Of academes,

Yet no man lives or dies
By a professor’s taste,
Which changes nothing

Though they behave
Like the mere act of saying
Alters gravity & space.

Bottom – philosopher of the kidney –
Fathers each moment named –
It fills his whole horizon

He mistakes omnivolence for omnipotence –
His only remedy a new thought
To withdraw him from the last.


I belong to mankind
& my wayward heart
Communes with worms –

Doves spread their angelic darkness
under the blue clouds
& smoke roams the cold corridors –

What an insect of death, the heart,
That wetly presses the blood
From darkness to darkness.



E. Hoffman is the author of eight collections of poetry, the most recent being By the Hours: Selected Poems, Early and Uncollected (Dos Madres, 2013). His critical biography of poet George Oppen, Oppen: A Narrative, was published by Shearsman in 2013. He has also edited three volumes of the University Press of Mississippi's celebrated Conversations with Comics Artists series, edited by M. Thomas Inge, Dave Sim: Conversations, Chester Brown: Conversations (both 2013) and the forthcoming Seth: Conversations (2015).

The poems published here derive from a longer work, The Transparent Eye, which comprises two sections, Emerson in Europe and Emerson in America. These works are a poetic exploration of Emerson's life and philosophy during this period, and utilize passages from Emerson's journals from 1833 and 1834.

This is Eric Hoffman's first appearance in Offcourse.

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