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Tuesday 23rd - George Szirtes Sonnet Night

We are lucky to have secured the ultra busy and wonderful George Szirtes to help us celebrate Shakespeare's birthday in style with an evening dedicated to the sonnet. The open mike will happen as usual but we ask that if you want to read you bring a sonnet, either one that you have written yourself (go on you know you've always wanted to...) or a sonnet by a poet you have found exciting, different or simply beautiful.

George Szirtes was born in Budapest in 1948 and came to England as a refugee in 1956. He was brought up in London and studied Fine Art in London and Leeds. His poems began appearing in national magazines in 1973 and his first book, The Slant Door, was published in 1979. It won the Faber Memorial prize the following year.

By this time he was married with two children. After the publication of his second book, November and May, 1982, he was invited to become a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. Since then he has published several books and won various other prizes including the T S Eliot Prize for Reel in 2005.

'Read Szirtes to feel the exquisite, excruciating paper cuts of history' The Independent

Having returned to his birthplace, Budapest, for the first time in 1984, he has also worked extensively as a translator of poems, novels, plays and essays and has won various prizes and awards in this sphere. His own work has been translated into numerous languages.

Beside his work in poetry and translation he has written Exercise of Power, a study of the artist Ana Maria Pacheco, and, together with Penelope Lively, edited New Writing 10 published by Picador in 2001.

'Any new collection from George Szirtes will treat its readers to a unique poetic combination: immense versatility and virtuosity when it comes to form, but also a tireless sympathy that dwells clear-sightedly on shocks, traumas and hard-won renewals from a century of migration and massacre.' Boyd Tonkin


Your image destroys itself, remakes itself, and is never weary.
Octavio Paz, The Prisoner.

Impossible to look directly into
another’s eyes. Impossible to look
into your own. You read the dense book
of being like a document you flick through.
Eyes, even an inch apart, are blurs,
clouds, like the concept of yesterday
which has an entity you sometimes stray
into beyond the limits of his and hers,
The unknown: the roughest of the rough guides,
and all it says is: you’re here, you’d better make
the best of it. You entered by mistake
and so you’ll leave. It’s what the route map hides
and languages obscure, the magnetic pull
of all you ever see of the beautiful.
But I have seen the beautiful. I know
its contours and the rough guide it provides
is blissfully specific: the hand that rides
the ridge of the collarbone or moves along the brow,
the perfect form of momentary light
in this line or another. It’s what Blake
saw at the top of the stair, the terrible earthquake
at the root of the flesh we think of as delight.
It’s what you see when you shut your eyes and see,
the angel with the whip or a flaming sword
that burns your eyes down to the spinal cord,
the shit, blood, semen smell of mortality
you get used to because it follows you
everywhere and is both beautiful and true.

George Szirtes (from New and Collected Poems - Bloodaxe Books 2008)