Order for £8.95 (free p&p) from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030
Bad Machine, By George Szirtes. Bloodaxe, £9.95
Tuesday 09 April 2013
George Szirtes is the most consistent, prolific British poet. All his collections are challenging and rewarding. Bad Machine is more various, more versatile, and might take longer to get into. At the book's heart is an almost hallucinatory series about the fragility of reality, of life, of the body. The title poem is about discovering the body is a faulty machine. Like many others, it is aphoristic: "There's no machine that's not a bad machine". Elsewhere, we find "We're handfuls of dust breathing in dust" and "Life being ordinary is the extraordinary thing".
The sources of Szirtes's poems, astonishing as his formal bravado, include allotments, images of his father dying, the songs "Mony Mony" and "By the Time I Get To Phoenix" and McGuffins. One poem comes from the looting in 2011; another, "Children of Albion", from the same theme.
But the dominant sources are artworks, particularly those of Anselm Kiefer. Kiefer's paintings and sculptures present the viewer with images of ruin, the aftermath of destruction. A fashionable term for responding to art is "ekphrasis". But as Szirtes notes in the introduction to his Collected Poems (2008): "Most bad writing about visual art is ekphrastic. Good writing is after something else." Szirtes's poems are not homage or referential: they have their own, often appalled resonance.
And resonance is what characterises his formal experiments: from sestina to the much more demanding canzone, in which key words keep recycling themselves – as in madrigals, or poems that run a series of end-words forwards and then backwards – to the most testing of all, "postcards" that twin curiously opposing images, as on reverse sides. For example, "Untitled, monument" offers a nightmare of broken monuments that turn into bodies scattered like detritus, "disposed among rubble, tables and chairs,/ left on a tip". The parallel piece is a surreal prose depiction, post-apocalyptic, of a chatty gathering of strangers, optimistically discussing their prospects.
Bill Greenwell is co-author of 'From Language to Creative Writing' (Bloomsbury)
film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat
Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challengeTV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Three-year-old boy shoots pregnant mother and father in New Mexico
- 2 Stephen Fry explains what he would say if he was 'confronted by God'
- 3 Jewish community urged to boycott Cornwall village after residents vote for 'Hitlers Walk' sign to be reinstated
- 4 Benedict Cumberbatch's Alan Turing gay-rights campaign snubbed by Prince William and Kate Middleton
- 5 Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
Daniel Radcliffe deemed 'not marketable' without his English accent
Gorillaz Phase 4: Cartoon supergroup is back as new artwork is unveiled
Venezuela Expo Tattoo 2015: Extreme body art from 'Vampire Woman' to 109mm earlobes
As Better Call Saul launches, here are the other spin-off shows we need to see
Game of Thrones season 5 trailer: The first full-length look is here
Stephen Fry explains what he would say if he was 'confronted by God'
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse
9 reasons Greece's experiment with the radical left is doomed to failure
President Putin is a dangerous psychopath - reason is not going to work with him
Have we reached 'peak food'? Shortages loom as global production rates slow
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign