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
Poems by George Szirtes
1980 Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize, The Slant DoorPrize website
1982 Fellow of the Royal Society of LiteraturePrize website
1984 Arts Council Travelling ScholarshipPrize website
1986 Cholmondeley AwardPrize website
1992 Whitbread Poetry Award (shortlist), Bridge PassagesPrize website
1995 European Poetry Translation Prize, New LifePrize website
1999 Forward Poetry Prize (Best Single Poem - shortlist), 'Backwaters: Norfolk Fields'Prize website
1999 Sony Bronze Award for Contribution to BBC Radio 3Prize website
1999 Weidenfeld Translation Prize (shortlist), The Adventures of SindbadPrize website
2003 Leverhulme Research FellowshipPrize website
2004 T. S. Eliot Prize (winner), ReelPrize website