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George Szirtes


Ezekiel's Bollocking

I thought I’d receive a thorough bollocking
from the master, having chewed
through his notebook in a moment
of despair. That’s no excuse for lacking
a scholarly attitude

he remarked as he scribbled my name on the spent

remains of the wallet he had inherited
from the previous master.
It was grim in Norwich between terms.
Mere formalism is worthless he muttered.
You can list
a dozen verse forms

but there’s no wit in any of them.
I was talking with Ezekiel
just this morning, you know the way Blake
used to—an interesting paradigm
en passant—about the best way to tackle
prophecy and you can make

what you like of it, but rhyme was neither
here nor there. He agreed
with Milton on that point. The greats,
he smiled, handing me another
box on the ears, were inspired
by the organic, not the patter of feet

across a stage. The air was thick with cannabis
smoke, an old habit of his,
like Holmes’s opium.
I was broke, my shirt was missing several
buttons. I was scraping the barrel
like the rest of them.

I couldn’t even afford to feed my metre
or oil my puns. I did not care
what Ezekiel said, nor the master, whose nose
was growing longer
by the minute. I do not propose
to waste my time on you
, he bared

his teeth. I have an epic to compose.
Next day, I found myself alone with Anubis
in the bar. He had that hangdog look,
common to students of poetics. He rose
to his feet with some difficulty. This
is a bad time for poetics

he lamented, then passed out. Life was like that
in Norwich in the nineties. So I
took him home and left him on the sofa.
What else are you to do in a small flat?
I returned to my Students Guide to Prosody
and poured myself an even stiffer

drink. I was stressed out. I couldn’t tell
my feet from my puns.
I was in what academics call ‘a proper state’.
The next morning I rang Ezekiel
and told him straight;
Next time just leave out the saffron,



Gilding Lilies

A thin lick of gilt frames     the act,
I am the king of gold, my Midas       touch
Lethal as the Gorgon’s stare. I am   classical
And hallowed, straight as a die   rapt
In perfections and somewhat beyond   gone
Out of the world well on the way to   truth
Dressed as cliché, each word poured   fresh
Minted, mounted, mantled, minuted,   mined.

Two reproductions of paintings by Raphael Soyer
Stood in for melancholy. My parents’ shorthand
Comprised the banalities of my own banality..
Our need of art came down to Raphael Soyer.

But why the melancholy? Why the need for it
In reproductions? Was it aspiration?
Cause enough, God knows! And yet the image
Was oddly fitting, creating our need for it.

We were modernists of nostalgia. The whole house
Swam and rang with the fetish of missing things,
Their nodding ceremonies, their hand-me-down
Lost gold look gilding the whole house.

Later I knew that Soyer wouldn’t cut it
Not half as much as melancholy did,
That gilding was a matter of melancholy,
A link to further links and as with any link
The only thing to do with it is cut it.

Sometimes the frame will swallow up the act.
Sometimes the memory outshines the sun.
Sometimes the cot of gold contains a child.
Sometimes a snap is the only thing you’ve got.


High Dudgeon

I live in High Dudgeon
My room’s a brown study
The colour is grim and,
I like to think, muddy.

The whole place was painted
In foulest distemper
And the painter decamped
A most unhappy camper.

I ride a high horse,
And I ride it rough shod,
I listen to no-one
Except, perhaps, God.

It’s quite hard to tell
My own from God’s voice,
But you needn’t worry,
You don’t get a choice.





George Szirtes was born in Budapest in 1948 and came to England as a refugee in 1956. He was brought up in London and studied Fine Art in London and Leeds. His poems began appearing in national magazines in 1973 and his first book, The Slant Door, was published in 1979. It won the Faber Memorial prize the following year. After the publication of his second book, November and May, 1982, he was invited to become a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. Since then he has published several books and won various other prizes including the T S Eliot Prize for Reel in 2005. His latest collection, The Burning of the Books and other poems (2009), was also shortlisted for the award. He has published nineteen collections and many translations. He has collaborated often with visual artists and has also written many works for music, stage and radio. He is Reader in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia. Contact author.

George Sirtez's poetry was also featured in issue 8 of Mad Hatters' Review.

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