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)
elephant appealThe first 23 lots in our charity auction have now gone. But there are 22 more still up for grabs
The magicians using online collaboration to push the boundaries
Jennifer Lawrence attacks mass media again over body image
Paris charity auction staged to save the ancient city of Tyre
scienceScientists find the answer to a question that even puzzled Darwin
A very timely Great Train Robbery and a frantic 24 Hours in A&E among the highlights
Geoffrey Macnab: The Wolf of Wall Street's account of white-collar excess is A Rake’s Progress on steroids
arts + entsThe 'Friends' actor on his new role as campaigner on addiction issues
Arts & Ents blogs
Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, film review
Brian Griffin returns: Cartoon dog back from the dead in Family Guy Christmas episode
Christmas comes early: Justin Bieber announces he's 'retiring from music'
Coriolanus, theatre review: 'Tom Hiddleston has blazing stellar power'
Nymphomaniac, film review: 'Despite the surreal sex scenes this is a serious drama'
Exclusive: Young people ‘want UK to stay in Europe’: Four in 10 adults aged 18 to 24 are ‘firmly in favour’ of membership, poll shows
Fox News presenter tells viewers it is a 'fact' that both Jesus and Santa Claus are white
You can STILL be jailed for being a republican, government confirms, and it remains illegal to even 'imagine' overthrowing the Queen
Kiss and yell: Italian protester charged with sexual assault after kissing riot police officer
Fighting back: the woman giving a voice (and 49,999 others) to the victims of sexism - by giving an airing to their horror stories
PM denies two child limit for benefits is part of Tory welfare policy
- 1 America's 'virgin births'? One in 200 mothers 'became pregnant without having sex'
- 2 Sun will 'flip upside down' within weeks, says Nasa
- 3 Ian Watkins: Paedophile Lostprophets singer sentenced to 35 years for child sex offences, as judge labels him a 'dangerous sexual predator'
- 4 Christmas comes early: Justin Bieber announces he's 'retiring from music'
- 5 Children evacuated from swimming pool after prosthetic leg mistaken for paedophile
- < Previous
- Next >