From ‘In the Face of History: In Time of War’

4.  Doisneau: Underground Press

Were I to fall in love all over again, it would be
with this low ceiling, with the calm faces
of the two men going about their craft
and with her now twisting towards them
beautiful, defiant and free.

Because we forget how beauty was once itself
and nothing else, how it held its stellar
moment in attic and cellar.

Because that is what beauty is, this compact
with time and the silence of concentration
on one subversive operation,

that requires courage and sacrifice
and never comes without a price.

5.  Sudek: Tree

The visionary moment comes
just as it is raining, just as bombs
are falling, just as atoms

burst like a sneeze in a city park
and enter the dark
as if it were the waiting ark.

You open your hand and blow
the dust. You pick and throw
the stone. You make the round O

of your mouth perfect as light
and the tree bends and stands upright
in the stolid night.

by George Szirtes

© George Szirtes, 2009.

George Szirtes’ latest collection, The Burning of the Books and other poems, from which these two sections are taken, is a collection of narrative sequences by a writer who came to Britain as a child refugee after the Hungarian Uprising of 1956. The two poems above come from a sequence which was commissioned by the Barbican Art Gallery to accompany its exhibition ‘In the Face of History: European Photographers in the 20th Century’. There is more information about the exhibition here, and you can see the photographs which were the inspirations for Szirtes’ two poems here and here.*

George Szirtes was born in Budapest in 1948. He was educated in England, trained as a painter, and has always written in English. In recent years he has worked as a translator of Hungarian literature, and co-edited Bloodaxe’s Hungarian anthology The Colonnade of Teeth. His poetry books published by Bloodaxe include The Budapest File (2000); Reel (2004), which won Szirtes the T.S. Eliot Prize; and New & Collected Poems (2008). The Burning of the Books and other poems (2009), has been shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize 2009. Szirtes lives in Norfolk and teaches at the University of East Anglia. You can read more of the poems from the ‘In the Face of History’ sequence on the Poetry website here, and learn more about the poet here.

Founded in Newcastle in 1978, Bloodaxe Books is one of Britain’s leading independent poetry publishers. Internationally renowned for quality in literature and excellence in book design, its authors and books have won virtually every major literary award given to poetry. Details of all Bloodaxe’s publications, plus sample video and audio clips of poets reading their work, can be found here.

* Sudek took a number of similar photographs of this tree in his garden, and the photograph displayed at this link may not be identical to the one exhibited at the Barbican.

Copyright information: please note that the copyrights of all the poems displayed on the website and sent out on the mailing list are held by the respective authors, translators or estates, and no work should be reproduced without first gaining permission from the individual publishers.