The Burning of the Books, By George Szirtes

Reviewed,Boyd Tonkin
Friday 25 September 2009 00:00 BST

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


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.

This volume has typically strong-voiced sequences on memory and time: photographs of war, an émigré wrestler from the poet's native Hungary, or the secret clocks of the body in the lovely "The Birds". 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: "Because the word is angular and has sharp edges/ That cut you". Read Szirtes to feel the exquisite, excruciating paper cuts of history.

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