“Let’s Marvin Gaye and get it on…”
I recently bought a book of poems entitled Poetry by Heart, which is a lovely collection of 200 poems meant to be read aloud. What I like about it is that it not only is a fairly eclectic collection, ensuring I’ll be introduced to poems and poets I’ve never heard of before, but also includes further introductions to each poet and their particularly chosen poem at the end of the book.
I’m fairly sure that now, more than ever, we need more poetry in our lives, and I’ll be using this book along with my own, er, odd collection of poets to explore poems as often as possible. (I’d like to say ‘one a day,’ but who knows how this’ll all turn out.)
So, by random, I chose Michael Hoffmann’s “Marvin Gaye” to kick things off.
First, I’ve never heard of Michael Hoffmann before, so this was quite the first impression. He’s a poet and translator, born in West Germany and growing up in England. I don’t know if this poem is indicative of his overall work or how he normally writes. I searched out several interviews with him since, and he has a lovely expressive way of speaking which isn’t necessarily echoed in this poem.
Second, the poem’s tone itself is at odds with the symmetric flow I prefer in poems, whether via rhyme or narrative structure. This is partially a recitation of facts and partially a distanced, poetic perspective.
Third, I’d never really delved into Marvin Gaye’s life. I’m familiar with his music (he features prominently on several Spotify playlists), but I didn’t know about the extreme paranoia or the death by his minister father’s hand (which, it’s suggested, he courted to some extent) until I started reading about him after reading this poem. Then, understanding the context better, I went back to read the poem again. The peculiarities of the structure of the poem – the distancing, the flatness – make more sense now.
My favorite line? “Success was the mother of eccentricity and withdrawal.” The tortured artist trope which so many have embraced over time raises these questions once again:
Do you need to suffer to make art?
Is it worth the cost?