George Szirtes on BBC Radio 3 & Radio 4

George Szirtes on BBC Radio 3 & Radio 4


Poet, translator and memoirist 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 Ottó Orbán, Zsuzsa Rakovszky and Ágnes Nemes Nagy.

His own poetry has been published by Bloodaxe since 2000. He won the T S Eliot Prize for his 2004 collection Reel, now included in New & Collected Poems. This retrospective was followed by The Burning of the Books and other poems (2009), shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize 2009, Bad Machine (2013) a Poetry Book Society Choice and shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize 2013, and Mapping the Delta (2016), which was the Poetry Book Society Choice for Winter 2016. A new collection, Fresh Out of the Sky, was published by Bloodaxe in October 2021.

Bloodaxe has also published his Newcastle/Bloodaxe Poetry Lectures, Fortinbras at the Fishhouses: Responsibility, the Iron Curtain and the sense of history as knowledge (2010), and John Sears’ critical study, Reading George Szirtes (2008).

George Szirtes' memoir of his mother, The Photographer at Sixteen (MacLehose Press, 2019), won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Biography, and was adapted for Book of the Week on BBC Radio 4, narrated by George himself.



Asymptote, online 20 January 2022

An in-depth interview with George Szirtes features on Asymptote, the internatioal site for world literature in translation. His new collection Fresh Out of the Sky was discussed, as was his work as both poet and translator. 

‘His newest collection of poems, Fresh Out of the Sky, was published by Bloodaxe Books in October 2021. It is a six-part meditation on country, identity, Judaism, belonging and political upheaval. In a world that seems to be growing ever more divided by borders–both physical and ideological—Szirtes brings beauty and humanity to the experience of migration. He reminds us why translation and art are essential in understanding one another and imagining worlds beyond our own.’ - Rose Bialer, Asymptote

Read in full here.



A wonderful in-depth review of George Szirtes’ new collection Fresh Out of the Sky featured in the March 2022 issue of the online journal Dublin Review of Books.

‘Without question, George Szirtes is the most distinguished poet now living in England. Hungary’s loss was England’s gain in 1956 and those elements of Budapest Jewish life that Szirtes has reclaimed imaginatively only serve to enrich and expand England’s poetic consciousness.... Dealing with the most dreadful, dark materials, painfully honest about exile and isolation, Fresh Out of the Skies is, unexpectedly, a joyous and life-affirming work.’ – Thomas McCarthy, Dublin Review of Books

Read in full here.


An excellent review of Fresh Out of the Sky features on London Grip of 1 January 2022.  Read in full here.

'His latest volume of poems is a tour de force of what he has termed ‘the music of what happens’, a supremely well-modulated examination of both his own life and the world at large as seen through the eyes of someone, in Bob Dylan’s words, ‘always on the outside of whatever side there was’.' - Nick Cooke, London Grip, on Fresh Out of the Sky

An in-depth and thoughtful review of Fresh Out of the Sky was featured on the online poetry magazine Ink, Sweat & Tears on 27 January 2022.

‘With each collection, the past is redrawn through a mastery of form that we come to expect from this poet, (Szirtes is surely our contemporary master of both the terza-rima and sonnet crown).’ – Andrew McDonnell, Ink, Sweat & Tears

Read in full here.


Poems at Dusk, BBC Radio 4, Sunday 29 November 2020, 4.30pm - a BBC Radio 4 Pick of the Week

George Szirtes contributed to a BBC Radio 4 feature in 2020 about poets writing in their later years who confront ageing and death.  He spoke about the shape of life, and read his poem ‘Dotage’ from his (then) forthcoming collection Fresh Out of the Sky.  Presented by poet Theresa Lola. George's interview was chosen for Radio 4 Pick of the Week on 5 December 2021.

‘Poet Theresa Lola is only 26 years old, but her work has always explored mortality. She's fascinated by our complex relationship with the final stage of life.  In this moving programme, Theresa meets poets in their twilight years, their thoughts and poems interweaving. We hear from TS Eliot Prize winner George Szirtes, now 71, who uses his poems to retread the corridors of memory as he heads knowingly into the dusk.’

George features in the intro and from 03:42.  Listen here.

This interview was chosen for BBC Radio 4's Pick of the Week on 5 December 2021. The extract ended with presenter William Crawley commenting ‘There’s a deep wisdom in that voice, isn’t there? It’s a voice shaped by a mind that is travelled.’



Private Passions: George Szirtes, BBC Radio 3, Sunday 9 May 2021, 12pm, repeated Sunday 30 January 2022, 12pm

George Szirtes was Michael Berkeley’s guest on Private Passions on 9 May 2021 (repeated 30 January 2022).  He talked about his life and work as well as his musical choices.  His poetry for adults is published by Bloodaxe.  His new collection Fresh Out of the Sky, published by Bloodaxe in October 2021, remembers his arrival in England as a child in 1956, following his dramatic escape from Hungary.  

Michael Berkeley referred to the title poem from George’s debut collection The Slant Door, which is now included in New & Collected Poems.  This retrospective also includes George Szirtes’ T S Eliot Prize-winning collection Reel.

‘George Szirtes arrived in Britain at the age of eight, wearing only one shoe. It was 1956, and as the Soviet tanks rolled into Budapest, George and his family fled on foot across the border to Austria, eventually ending up (with many others) as refugees in London. It was such a hasty journey that one of his shoes got lost on the way. From a very early age, he wanted to be a poet – and he has certainly fulfilled that ambition over the last forty years, publishing close to 20 books of prize-winning poetry, and as many translations from Hungarian literature. His moving memoir, The Photographer at 16, won the James Tait Black Prize and was recently broadcast on Radio 4.’

Listen here (this podcast edition has shorter musical clips).



Free Thinking: Paul Nash, George Szirtes, Hungary 1956 and now, BBC Radio 3, Wednesday 19 October 2016, 10pm

George Szirtes was interviewed for Radio 3’s Free Thinking on 19 October. At the top of the programme he spoke about his new collection of poetry Mapping the Delta, which was introduced by presenter Philip Dodd with: ‘In this volume, history is almost always the spectre stalking its pages.’  George read and spoke about his version of William Blake’s poem ‘The Sick Rose’.  They talked about the title poem ‘Mapping the Delta’, and the way that memory and imagination intersect.  George was also asked to read the final poem from the sequence about his late father ‘The Yellow Room’.

George Szirtes also contributed to a discussion on Hungary:

‘Ahead of the 60th anniversary of the Hungarian Revolution, Philip speaks to poet George Szirtes, who left the country as a boy in 1956, and writer Tibor Fischer, whose parents came to Britain that same year. They are joined by historians Nora Berend and Simon Hall to discuss the revolt, the history of Islam in Hungary and the political debates going on today.’

George Szirtes is the co-editor of the Hungarian anthology The Colonnade of Teeth published by Bloodaxe Books.

Click here to listen (George Szirtes on Mapping the Delta is the first item, followed by discussion on Hungary)


[10 May 2021]

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