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. 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.
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
His recording was made for The Poetry Archive on 1 March 2005 at The Audio Workshop, London and was produced by Richard Carrington.
Poems by George Szirtes
Books by George Szirtes
Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize for 'The Slant Door'Prize website
Fellow of the Royal Society of LiteraturePrize website
Arts Council Travelling ScholarshipPrize website
Cholmondeley PrizePrize website
Déry Prize for Translation The Tragedy of Man
Gold Star of the Hungarian RepublicPrize website
European Poetry Translation Prize for New LifePrize website
George Cushing Prize for Anglo-Hungarian Cultural Relations
Society of Authors Travelling ScholarshipPrize website
Leverhulme Research FellowshipPrize website
Pro Cultura Hungarica medalPrize website
T. S. Eliot Prize for 'Reel'Prize website
Ovid Prize, RomaniaPrize website
Bess Hokin Prize (USA) Poetry Foundation
Bess Hokin Prize for poems in 'Poetry' magazine
CLPE Prize for in the Land if the Giants, poems for childrenPrize website
Man Booker International winner, as translator of László KrasznahorkaiPrize website
Honorary Fellowhsip from Goldsmiths CollegePrize website
Honorary Doctorate from the University of East AngliaPrize website
Poetry and the People Award in Guangzhou, China