Category Archives: George Szirtes

Small objects of pain

God knows where words go.
Dust to dust.
The poet loves and distrusts them.
Someone must.

Trust no one, least of all yourself. Least of all your own best beloved blather, those sentiments and instincts that seem to elevate you into one of life’s nobler specimens, that render you a Mensch, a judge of character, a person who, according to your secret internal PR, is someone to be trusted. If you must trust in something, trust in distrust, or at least listen to it sometimes. As they say: Just listen to yourself! At least have the decency to be just a little disgusted with yourself.

Can you hear the shakiness of those words, those little drops of sound as they fall, those traces of black and white certainty as they imprint themselves across the page? Something — a shadow, as Eliot would have it — intervenes between, what shall we call it? Idea and reality? Motion and act? Conception and creation? What do you read, my lord? Words, words, words.

They really are terrible things: small objects of pain, strange myopic blurs that suddenly rush together to form an avalanche tumbling from one or other Mount Sinai. Tablets of cant. Here, take one. If it doesn’t cure you at least you can flatten yourself with it. See how treacherous they are, these mixed metaphors, these puns?

George Szirtes

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On speaking poetry

Do not act out words. Never act out words. Never try to leave the floor when you talk about flying. Never close your eyes and jerk your head to one side when you talk about death. Do not fix your burning eyes on me when you speak about love. If you want to impress me when you speak about love put your hand in your pocket or under your dress and play with yourself. If ambition and the hunger for applause have driven you to speak about love you should learn how to do it without disgracing yourself or the material (…) The poem is nothing but information. It is the Constitution of the inner country. If you declaim it and blow it up with noble intentions then you are no better than the politicians whom you despise. You are just someone waving a flag and making the cheapest kind of appeal to a kind of emotional patriotism. Think of the words as science, not as art. They are a report. You are speaking before a meeting of the Explorers’ Club of the National Geographic Society. These people know all the risks of mountain climbing. They honour you by taking this for granted. If you rub their faces in it that is an insult to their hospitality.

Leonard Cohen

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The finest poetry creates its own place of power through words. It does so by itself, not through somebody selling the words. The words in the best poems don’t need any more than speaking. You don’t have to put emotion into them. What you have to do is to hear their strangeness and, within the strangeness, to hear the emotion in them, the whole odd electric experience vibrating as in a diaphragm. The diaphragm is all you really need. You could practically whisper poems like prayers. Their words will fall into the silence of the transformed space like a meteor shower.

George Szirtes