© 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

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These poems come from a special recording for the Poetry Archive:

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

Select bibliography

  • The Slant Door, London, Secker & Warburg, 1979 - out of print
  • November and May, Secker & Warburg, 1981 - out of print
  • Short Wave, Secker & Warburg, 1984 - out of print
  • The Photographer in Winter, Secker & Warburg, 1986 - out of print
  • Metro, London, Oxford University Press, 1988 - out of print
  • Imre Mádach, The Tragedy of Man (translator), Hungary, Corvina Books, 1989
  • Sándor Csoóri, Barbarian Prayer: Selected Poems (part translator), Corvina Books, 1989
  • István Vas, Through the Smoke: Selected Poems (editor and part translator), Corvina Books, 1989
  • Darker Muses: With a Prefatory Letter by Thomas Mann (reviser/translator), Corvina Books, 1990
  • Dezso Kosztolanyi, Anna Édes (translator), London, Quartet, 1991
  • Zsuzsa Rakovsky and Gyözö Ferencz, As If . . .:Poems (co-translator with Clive Wilmer), Starwheel Press, 1991
  • Bridge Passages, Oxford University Press, 1991 - out of print
  • Otto Orbán, The Blood of the Walsungs: Selected Poems (editor), Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Bloodaxe, 1993
  • Blind Field, Oxford University Press, 1994 - out of print
  • New Life: Selected Poems of Zsuzsa Rakovszky (translator), Oxford University Press, 1994
  • Collected Poems of Freda Downie (editor), Bloodaxe, 1995
  • Selected Poems, Oxford University Press, 1996 - out of print
  • The Colonnade of Teeth: Twentieth Century Hungarian Poetry (editor and translator), Bloodaxe, 1996
  • The Red All Over Riddle Book (for children), London, Faber & Faber, 1997 (new ed. 1999)
  • Portrait of my Father in an English Landscape, Oxford University Press, 1998 - out of print
  • László Krasznahorkai, The Melancholy of Resistance (translator), Quartet, 1998
  • The Lost Rider: Hungarian Poetry 16-20th Century, an anthology (editor and chief translator), Corvina Books, 1998
  • The Budapest File, Bloodaxe, 2000
  • Sándor Kányádi, There is a Land: Selected Poems (selected and translated by Peter Zollmann, with a preface by George Szirtes), Corvina Books, 2000
  • New Writing 10 (editor with Penelope Lively), London, Picador (in association with the British Council), 2001
  • An English Apocalypse, Bloodaxe, 2001
  • The Night of Akhenaton: Selected Poems of Ágnes Nemes Nagy, Bloodaxe, 2004
  • An Island of Sound: Hungarian Poetry and Fiction before and beyond the Iron Curtain (co-editor and translator), London, Harvill, 2004
  • Sándor Márai, Casanova in Bolzano (translator), London, Knopf/Viking, 2004
  • Reel, Bloodaxe, 2004
  • László Krasznahorkai, War and War, New Directions, 2005
  • George Szirtes Reading from his poems, CD, The Poetry Archive, 2005
  • MirrorsCircle Press Publications, 2005
  • In Person 30 Poets, Edited by Neil Astley / Films by Pamela Robertson-Pearce, Bloodaxe Books 2008
  • New and Collected Poems Bloodaxe Books, 2008
  • Shuck, Hick, Tiffey!: Three Norfolk Libretti Gatehouse Press Ltd, 2008
  • The Burning of the Books and Other Poems Bloodaxe Books, 2009
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


1980 Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize, The Slant Door

1982 Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature

1984 Arts Council Travelling Scholarship

1986 Cholmondeley Award

1990 Déry Prize for Translation, The Tragedy of Man

1991 Gold Star of the Hungarian Republic

1992 Whitbread Poetry Award (shortlist), Bridge Passages

1995 European Poetry Translation Prize, New Life

1996 Aristeion Translation Prize (shortlist), New Life

1999 Forward Poetry Prize (Best Single Poem - shortlist), 'Backwaters: Norfolk Fields'

1999 Sony Bronze Award for Contribution to BBC Radio 3

1999 Weidenfeld Translation Prize (shortlist), The Adventures of Sindbad

2001 George Cushing Prize

2003 Leverhulme Research Fellowship

2004 Pro Cultura Hungarica medal

2004 T. S. Eliot Prize (winner), Reel

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