In this innovative series of public lectures at Newcastle University, leading contemporary poets speak about the craft and practice of poetry to audiences drawn from both the city and the university. The lectures are then published in book form by Bloodaxe, giving readers everywhere the opportunity to learn what the poets themselves think about their own subject. George Szirtes' three lectures form an arc on the nature of historical knowledge in the poem. 'Our knowledge' says Elizabeth Bishop in 'At the Fishhouses', 'is historical, flowing and flown.' The sea in her poem is so cold it burns hand and tongue, a parodox explored in his first lecture, 'Cold dark deep and absolutely clear: poetic knowledge as uncertainty'. Beginning with this understanding of knowledge, his second lecture, 'Life is Elsewhere: knowing in opposition', shifts to notions of historical responsibility, especially as perceived by poets in the West at the time of the Cold War. Szirtes considers questions of betrayal and fidelity and the role of irony and quietism. In his third lecture, 'Flowing and flown: in the world of superfluous knowledge', Szirtes seeks exemplars and connections in works by George Seferis, Derek Mahon and poets of Eastern Europe from the period immediately before 1989 as well as briefly afterwards, to enquire into the nature of repression, returning to Bishop's story 'In the Village' for its conclusion, where 'The hammer echoes with the icy black sea. Cold, dark deep and absolutely clear' ending with Bishop's affirming cry: 'Oh beautiful sound, strike again!'
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 Otto Orban, Zsuzsa Rakovszky and gnes 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). Bloodaxe has also published John Sears' critical study Reading George Szirtes (2008). Szirtes lives in Norfolk and teaches at the University of East Anglia.