The body is the ‘bad machine’ of George Szirtes’ latest book of poems. The sudden death of his elderly father and of his younger friend, the poet Michael Murphy, remind him how machines – sources of energy and delight in their prime – go so easily wrong; and that change in the body is a signal for moving on. But language too is a body. Here, politics, assimilation, desire, creatureliness and the pleasure and loss of the body, mingle in various attenuated forms such as lexicon, canzone, acrostics, mirror poems, postcards, and a series of ‘minimenta’ after Anselm Kiefer whose love of history as rubble and monument haunts this collection.
George Szirtes is one of our most inventive – and constantly reinventing – poets, and Bad Machine shows him developing new themes and new ways of writing in poems which stretch the possibilities of form and question language and its mastery. Bad Machine is a Poetry Book Society Choice.
‘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.
'This volume has typically strong-voiced sequences...But its title sequence truly takes the breath away: a meditation on the love and hatred of knowledge, and why fury against literature did not start or end on Nazis' pyres... Read Szirtes to feel the exquisite, excruciating paper cuts of history' - Boyd Tonkin, The Independent, on The Burning of the Books and other poems.
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 Ottó Orbán, Zsuzsa Rakovszky and Ágnes 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), shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize 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.