George Szirtes

George Szirtes (credit Caroline Forbes)

George Szirtes (b. 1948) came to England in 1956 as a refugee from Hungary following the Hungarian Uprising. He was educated in England, and has always written in English. 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 followed, including Bridge Passages (Bloodaxe, 1991) which was shortlisted for the Whitbread Poetry Prize, Reel (Bloodaxe, 2004) which won the T S Eliot Prize, and his New and Collected Poems published by Bloodaxe in 2008. His most recent collection, Bad Machine (Bloodaxe, 2013) was a Poetry Book Society Choice and gained him another T S Eliot Prize shortlisting. In addition to his own poetry, Szirtes has translated, edited and anthologized numerous collections of Hungarian poetry.

At the heart of his work is the dual perspective of an exile. In his work English individualism and Eastern European influences meet, creating fascinating tensions. A return trip to his native Budapest in 1984 proved a particularly fruitful trigger for his creativity. This city has always been a haunting presence in his poetry, a result of displacement and the consequent negotiation between a European sensibility and English culture. The past is deeply ambiguous, vulnerable to the reconstructions of memory. Myth and fairy tale rub shoulders with ordinary details from English life, while the malign presence of history and totalitarian politics hovers at the edges.

These ambiguities and complexities are held in place by a rigorous and ambitious use of form. Terza rime and the sonnet are favourites, and Szirtes has commented on the importance to him of rhyme describing it as an “unexpected salvation, the paper nurse that somehow, against all the odds, helps us stick the world together while all the time drawing attention to its own fabricated nature.”