George Szirtes Criticism - Essay

William Palmer (review date December 1980)

(Poetry Criticism)

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.)

Alan Jenkins (essay date August 1982)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Jenkins, Alan. “A Barbarous Eloquence.” Encounter 59, no. 2 (August 1982): 55-61.

[In the following essay, Jenkins discusses Szirtes's poetic style.]

The poems contained in George Szirtes's November and May are largely concerned with propitiating the grimmer or less manageable gods and with trying to wrest a quirky, by no means comforting morality—in both senses—from the already quirky occurrences of the everyday and the domestic. The epigraph from Mac-Neice's “Snow” (“There is more than glass between the snow and the huge roses”) suggests that Szirtes has sensed the limitations of meticulousness, starkness, cleanliness, a strong visual...

(The entire section is 495 words.)

John Lucas (essay date 13 January 1984)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Lucas, John. “Sight Lines.” New Statesman 107 (13 January 1984): 24-5.

[In the following essay, Lucas writes about Szirtes's word choice and use of rhythm.]

There is more than a trace of Geoffrey Grigson in the manner of George Szirtes' relish for the observable world. Describing a bullfinch perched on a lilac flower, he says that the bird's weight ‘bothered the lilac, she bent / a little, her small tent / of pleasure collapsing / inward with the swaying’. Although those lines could never be mistaken for Grigson, the weighting and positioning of rhyme and phrase owe something to his example. In Short Wave, notation becomes poetry: ‘Tired, you...

(The entire section is 630 words.)

Andrew Motion (review date April 1984)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Motion, Andrew. “Too True.” Poetry Review 74, no. 1 (April 1984): 64.

[In the following review, Motion discusses the love poetry of Szirtes.]

Once in a while, or maybe only once in a lifetime, most of us want to write love poems. And most of us, especially if the love we want to write about is happy, find it dismayingly difficult. Why? The most obvious reason—or at least the most commonly given, and the one made famous by Larkin—is that ‘happiness writes white’. It's an appealing excuse for the elegiac English sensibility. But behind it lies a complicated question about audience. It's usual for poets to claim that their relationship with their...

(The entire section is 765 words.)

John Lucas (review date 26 August 1988)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Lucas, John. “A Rose for the Betrayed World.” New Statesman 1, no. 12 (26 August 1988): 38.

[In the following review, Lucas looks at the political nature of poems in Szirtes's collection Metro.]

At the end of “Five Men”, a poem which records with level, factual honesty the assassination of political dissidents (or so one assumes them to be), Zbigniew Herbert remarks that a poet can also “once again / in dead earnest / offer to the betrayed world / a rose.” He does not intend to mock such earnestness. But then what is the subject for poetry? Or rather, is it possible to find a procedure—a tone, a style, a formal manner—that makes possible...

(The entire section is 868 words.)

Mark Ford (essay date 19 January 1989)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Ford, Mark. “Sssnnnwhuffffll.” London Review of Books 11, no. 2 (19 January 1989): 14-5.

[In the following essay, Ford discusses the themes of Szirtes's book Metro.]

George Szirtes is a less frolicsome poet than Morgan, and his new volume, Metro, has him dealing with particularly grim subject-matter. The book's long title poem is set in the Hungary of 1944-45. The country has been overrun by fascist forces, and Hungarian Jews, including the poet's own mother, are being rounded up and sent to concentration camps. The poem's narrative cuts between his own childhood memories of Hungary and the fates of various branches of the Szirtes family, but mainly...

(The entire section is 672 words.)

George Szirtes (essay date spring 1989)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Szirtes, George. “Being Remade As an English Poet.” New Hungarian Quarterly 30, no. 113 (spring 1989): 149-59.

[In the following essay, Szirtes writes about his youth and writing poetry in a new language.]

At the age of twenty-seven I felt “I needed to be remade as an English poet.” It was of course a form of groping in the dark. What does it mean to be remade? If I ask myself this question now I am immediately led back into that odd twilight world in which the past becomes an unwitting liar, the clear conclusions that spring from it fade like mirages, and even the apparent certainties of what has come to be begin to lose their definition. Now I travel...

(The entire section is 5221 words.)

Stephen Romer (review date 16 August 1991)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Romer, Stephen. “Events through Glass.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4611 (16 August 1991): 24.

[In the following review, Romer discusses the emotions found in the poetry of Szirtes's Bridge Passages.]

Geòrge Szirtes's new book carries the dedication “For my friends in Hungary”, which puts us instantly in the picture, given that most of the poems were composed in Hungary itself during the momentous months of 1989-90. To outsiders, the demise of the Communist regime there was perhaps less spectacular, and in a sense less public, than the similar events in Poland, Czechoslovakia, and especially Romania. As if in keeping with our more muffled perception...

(The entire section is 850 words.)

Stan Smith (review date 9 January 1992)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Smith, Stan. “Imagining the Suburbs.” London Review of Books 14, no. 1 (9 January 1992): 22-3.

[In the following review, Smith discusses the imagery in Szirtes's book Bridge Passages.]

Whole systems of thought have been founded on the French language's inability to distinguish differing from deferring. Perhaps Napoleon is to blame (‘Not tonight, Josephine’). In Britain, we do things differently. Whereas Baudelaire's vrai voyageur preferred travelling joyfully to the letdowns of arrival—in modern terms, couldn't stop playing with his signifier—Forster's Mrs Moore remains convinced that there is a real India to make her passage to, Conrad's...

(The entire section is 2624 words.)

Nicholas Murray (review date 7 June 1996)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Murray, Nicholas. “Retro to the Metro.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4862 (7 June 1996): 26.

[In the following review, Murray examines Szirtes's selections for his book Selected Poems. 1976-1996.]

“I'm merely a reporter whose truth lies / in diction clear as water”, declares the narrator of “Street Entertainment”, a poem from Bridge Passages (1991), the sixth of the seven collections raided for this impressively consistent and accomplished Selected Poems: 1976-1996. George Szirtes has always cast a cool eye on the human and the physical landscapes—often reading one in terms of the other—and is reluctant to draw too many...

(The entire section is 706 words.)

Caitriona O'Reilly (essay date March-April 1999)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: O'Reilly, Caitriona. “Possibilities of Vision.” Poetry Nation Review 25, no. 4 (March-April 1999): 79-80.

[In the following essay, O'Reilly discusses the technical merit of Szirtes's poetry in his book Portrait of My Father in an English Landscape.]

Portrait of my Father in an English Landscape is Hungarian-born poet George Szirtes's most recent collection. The volume is concerned with the poet's memories of his family and early childhood in Eastern Europe, and in an England overshadowed by deprivation and war. This translates symbolically into a poetry which is obsessed by effacement and decay. ‘Four Villonesques on Desire’ comprise a witty...

(The entire section is 374 words.)

Judith Kitchen (essay date summer 1999)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Kitchen, Judith. “Tensions.” Georgia Review 53, no. 2 (summer 1999): 368-84.

[In the following essay, Kitchen explores the father-son relationships described in Szirtes's poetry volume Portrait of My Father in an English Landscape.]

Portrait of My Father in an English Landscape by George Szirtes is one of the most elegantly formal books I've read in recent years. Szirtes is a master of iambic pentameter, of the sonnet in particular, and seems to have found ways to make English rhymes sound new. One way he does this is through innovative use of enjambment; the stanzas unfold seamlessly while the intricacy of the pattern establishes itself, as in the...

(The entire section is 1011 words.)

George Szirtes with András Gerevich (interview date winter 2001)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Szirtes, George with András Gerevich. “Hungarian Roots, English Traditions.” Hungarian Quarterly 42, no. 164 (winter 2001): 100-06.

[In the following interview, Szirtes and Gerevich discuss Szirtes's life and work.]

George Szirtes, born in Budapest in 1948, left Hungary with his family as a child in 1956 and settled in England. So far he has published 13 volumes of poetry, the most recent of which are The Budapest File, Bloodaxe/Corvina, 2000, a collection of his poems on Hungarian topics, and An English Apocalypse, Bloodaxe, 2001. He has received numerous prestigious British awards, including the Faber Prize and the Cholmondeley Award. He...

(The entire section is 3237 words.)

James Sutherland-Smith (review date September-October 2001)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Sutherland-Smith, James. “In and Out of Focus.” Poetry Nation Review 28, no. 1 (September-October 2001): 68-9.

[In the following review, Sutherland-Smith discusses Szirtes's life in relation to his book The Budapest File.]

George Szirtes so far has enjoyed a distinguished career as a poet and translator with the occasional acerbic review to add bite. His change of English publisher has resulted in a Collected poems about Budapest and Central Europe. The book is dedicated to the memory of his mother and to his father both of whom emerge as remarkable presences in the book, as does the poet himself, rather more so than the city of Budapest which...

(The entire section is 1503 words.)

James Hopkin (essay date 27 October 2001)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Hopkin, James. “Wrestling with Englishness.” Guardian (27 October 2001): 11.

[In the following essay, Hopkin writes about Szirtes's transition from being Hungarian to being English.]

’Xenophobia is not what it used to be,” says Anglo-Hungarian poet and translator George Szirtes, and he should know. Ever since he walked across the Austrian border as an eight-year-old refugee in 1956, Szirtes has lived the life of a hyphenated being, never quite belonging to his adopted country, England, and never quite leaving behind his native Hungary.

When he began writing in his late teens, he realised that the struggle for identity was located in...

(The entire section is 957 words.)