Image by Caroline Forbes

George Szirtes

b. 1948


Poetry's only obligation is to the truth. Whether this truth is widely popular or not is irrelevant. It should be the best truth possible and that is the only quality that gives it any hope of survival. - George Szirtes


About George Szirtes

George Szirtes (b. 1948) came to England in 1956 as a refugee from Hungary. He was brought up in London, going on to study fine art in London and Leeds. He wrote poetry alongside his art and his first collection, The Slant Door, appeared in 1979 and won the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize. After his second collection was published he was invited to become a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. Other acclaimed collections and translations followed, a return trip to Budapest in 1984 proving a particularly fruitful trigger for his creativity. His most recent collection, Reel, was awarded the 2004 T. S. Eliot Prize.

The tension in Szirtes' haunting poems is partly a result of displacement and the consequent negotiation between a European sensibility and English culture. In particular the loss of his earliest home, the city of Budapest, renders the past deeply ambiguous, vulnerable to the reconstructions of memory. Poems that seemingly chronicle purely domestic moments have implications beyond the half open windows and doors of the rooms in which they take place, like the baby grand of a childhood apartment that "vanishes into the sudden dark//Of history and other shady business." ('Piano') His poems reject the simplifications that belonging - to a country, religion or political movement - can demand. Thus the process of assimilation is satirised in 'Preston North End' where his Englishness is learnt through football's tribal loyalties until "I pass the Tebbitt test. I am Alan Lamb,/Greg Rusedski, Viv Anderson, the boy/from the corner shop, Solskjaer and Jaap Stam." But though he offers no easy narratives or identities he understands the impulse to try and make sense of the world through them: his poems are full of tenderness towards the dead, and by extension all of us who will one day be displaced by the passage of time like the girl in the photograph who "is touching because she is lovely/and gone." ('Meeting Austerlitz').

Szirtes has described his poems as buildings and their mainly formal structures do have an architectural quality which his reading brings out. However, it's the still slightly foreign music of his voice, the accent that is hard to place, which expresses the complexities of his work so beautifully.

His recording was made for The Poetry Archive on 1 March 2005 at The Audio Workshop, London and was produced by Richard Carrington.

George Szirtes's Favourite Poetry Sayings:

"Poetry is a secret and subversive pleasure." - Martin Bell

"Poets acquire humanity." - Wallace Stevens

"Art is a house that tries to be haunted." - Emily Dickinson

Additional material and useful links

2010 National Poetry Competition

Deryn Rees-Jones is one of the judges of the 2010 National Poetry Competition, which is now open for entries. Established in 1978, the National Poetry Competition is one of the longest running...

http://poetrysociety.org.uk/shop/product/18/

Aldeburgh Backchat 3

Listen to a fascinating behind the scenes interview with George Szirtes at the 2008 Aldeburgh Poetry Festival.

http://cdn4.libsyn.com/thepoetrytrust/szirtes_20090508.mp3?nvb=20100915170428&nva=20100916171428&t=05e78dc51d93b168c55c7

Selected bibliography

Shuck, Hick, Tiffey!: Three Norfolk Libretti Gatehouse...

The Burning of the Books and Other Poems Bloodaxe Books...

MirrorsCircle Press Publications, 2005

New and Collected Poems Bloodaxe Books, 2008

László Krasznahorkai, War and War, New Directions, 2005

Reel, Bloodaxe, 2004

Buy

Sándor Márai, Casanova in Bolzano (translator), London,...

An Island of Sound: Hungarian Poetry and Fiction before...

Buy

The Night of Akhenaton: Selected Poems of Ágnes Nemes...

An English Apocalypse, Bloodaxe, 2001

Buy

New Writing 10 (editor with Penelope Lively), London,...

Buy

Sándor Kányádi, There is a Land: Selected Poems (...

The Budapest File, Bloodaxe, 2000

Buy

The Lost Rider: Hungarian Poetry 16-20th Century, an...

László Krasznahorkai, The Melancholy of Resistance (...

Portrait of my Father in an English Landscape, Oxford...

The Red All Over Riddle Book (for children), London,...

Buy

The Colonnade of Teeth: Twentieth Century Hungarian...

Buy

Selected Poems, Oxford University Press, 1996 - out of...

Collected Poems of Freda Downie (editor), Bloodaxe, 1995

Buy

New Life: Selected Poems of Zsuzsa Rakovszky (translator...

Blind Field, Oxford University Press, 1994 - out of print

Otto Orbán, The Blood of the Walsungs: Selected Poems (...

Buy

Bridge Passages, Oxford University Press, 1991 - out of...

Zsuzsa Rakovsky and Gyözö Ferencz, As If . . .:Poems (co...

Dezso Kosztolanyi, Anna Édes (translator), London,...

Darker Muses: With a Prefatory Letter by Thomas Mann (...

István Vas, Through the Smoke: Selected Poems (editor...

Sándor Csoóri, Barbarian Prayer: Selected Poems (part...

Imre Mádach, The Tragedy of Man (translator), Hungary,...

Metro, London, Oxford University Press, 1988 - out of...

The Photographer in Winter, Secker...

Short Wave, Secker & Warburg, 1984 - out of print

November and May, Secker & Warburg, 1981 - out of print

The Slant Door, London, Secker...

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