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The Burning of the Books and Other Poems by George Szirtes
  

The Burning of the Books and Other Poems

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Reviewed and selected by our poetry expert, Liam Parkin.

George Szirtes, an Hungarian-born poet, won the T.S. Eliot prize in 2004 for his collection Reel, and The Burning of the Books is the second to have been shortlisted. Interested in history and documentation, the collection brings forth ideas of memory and recollection of the act of the burning of the books; ‘the terrible sunlight/ Of certainty settled across her and the city/ The shadows much sharper, the brightness alarming’ (The Burning of the Books). Szirtes has a distinctive style; every word contains within it its own history, and his choice and adherence to form is the work of an experienced poet. The collection offers biographical insights of the history and vague memory of the Hungarian Uprising from Szirtes’ eyes. The poems often read like a photograph; ‘The stone-cold body that is dressed to lie/ along the couch. The stone-cold body dressed/ for flames’ (The Penig Film). It is a remarkable account of a history of trauma and heritage, giving us an insight into a past that is too hard to forget.

Synopsis

The Burning of the Books and Other Poems by George Szirtes

The title-poem of George Szirtes' "The Burning of the Books and Other Poems" is the core of this collection of narrative sequences by a writer who came to Britain as a child refugee after the Hungarian Uprising. Book burning is associated with the Nazis' burning of what they considered to be subversive books in 1933, but the practice has a long history, right down to our own day. In this particular case the burning refers to the library of Kien, the scholar, in Elias Canetti's novel "Auto Da Fae". The poems follow and expand from the events of Canetti's book in a variety of forms not previously used by Szirtes. Two further sequences are concerned with history and documentary, one about the discovery of small snippets of film recording the liberation of Penig concentration camp where Szirtes' mother was imprisoned, and another of songs concerning war and documentary photography. There are also prose poems, monologues, a series of canzoni, a group of poems exploring the origins of love in childhood, and another based on the mythical travels of Sir John Mandeville about the Hungarian Uprising of 1956. The book, as a whole, constitutes an exploration of the range and flexibility of a voice attuned to the patterns of history and the way such patterns transform our sense of the present.

Reviews

'A brilliantly virtuosic collection of deeply felt poems concerned with the personal impact of the dislocations and betrayals of history. The judges were impressed by the unusual degree of formal pressure exerted by Szirtes on his themes of memory and the impossibility of forgetting' - DOUGLAS DUNN on Reel, winner of the T.S. Eliot Prize

'A major contribution to post-war literature - Using a painter-like collage of images to retrieve lost times, lives, cities and betrayed hopes, Szirtes weaves his personal and historical themes into work of profound psychological complexity' - ANNE STEVENSON, Poetry Review

About the Author

George Szirtes was born in Budapest in 1948, and came to England with his family after the 1956 Hungarian uprising. He was educated in England, training as a painter, and has always written in English. In recent years he has worked as a translator of Hungarian literature, producing editions of such writers as Otto Orban, Zsuzsa Rakovszky and gnes Nemes Nagy. He co-edited Bloodaxe's Hungarian anthology The Colonnade of Teeth. His Bloodaxe poetry books are The Budapest File (2000); An English Apocalypse (2001); Reel (2004), winner of the T.S. Eliot Prize; New & Collected Poems (2008) and The Burning of the Books and other poems (2009). Bloodaxe has also published John Sears' critical study Reading George Szirtes (2008). Szirtes lives in Norfolk and teaches at the University of East Anglia.

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Book Info

Publication date

10th September 2009

Author

George Szirtes

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Author's Website

www.georgeszirtes.co.uk/

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Publisher

Bloodaxe Books Ltd

Format

Paperback
104 pages

Categories

Poetry
All Shortlists and Winners
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Poetry by individual poets

ISBN

9781852248420

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