William Palmer (review date December 1980)
SOURCE: Palmer, William. “A New Slant.” Poetry Review 70, no. 3 (December 1980): 68-70.
[In the following review, Palmer writes favorably about The Slant Door.]
George Szirtes has achieved in The Slant Door that rare thing—a book that cannot be wrapped in a five hundred word review and dropped to oblivion. It is one of the best first books of poetry to be published in the past few years, that is, if we judge by successful poems and not by promise or critically adduced intentions.
This, of course, is to take the book as a whole, and in an unusually meaty book, with poems crowded together on the page, there is a fair amount of XXth century poetic stock:
Sunlight laces the book The dying light shudders The trees fling their doily patterns high
The last line is from one of those of poems about the pathos of old age that now seem obligatory in any young poet's book.
But there is also this:
Look, it has snowed in the light And the roads are bright as skin Lit by the moon: the snow is moonlight And there will be no morning ever again, We shall live in white like brides Never stirring, nor shall light be over To discover the bed unmade or the windows thrown wide Or the street stopped in its course like a river.
This may appear slight at first, and this is the whole poem, but it is a whole poem and shows a quite unforced balance and subtlety of thought and rhythm as the language is moved through modulation and oppositions, moved to that last line and held there. It has mastery and fitness; the scene is general, we can supply the detail; what is left out is the presence of the poet; for its duration we exist in the poem.
In ‘Salon des Indépendants’, the view is specific, frozen in the past and lifted out like a glass slide; unless I am mistaken the poem is an accurate translation into words of a painting by the Douanier Rousseau. Another poem, ‘Nativity Scene’, seems to imitate the spring steel lines of a Crivelli:
The caged god turns in his mother's arms and presses Against her ribs with a unique strength …
Where in a lesser poet this cold yet fiery poem would be typical of a number of cold look-alikes, the brilliance of description causes one to turn back...
(The entire section is 974 words.)