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This review is taken from PN Review 141, Volume 28 Number 1, September - October 2001.

IN AND OUT OF FOCUS GEORGE SZIRTES, The Budapest File (Bloodaxe with Corvina, Budapest) £9.95

George Szirtes so far has enjoyed a distinguished career as a poet and translator with the occasional acerbic review to add bite. His change of English publisher has resulted in a 'Collected' poems about Budapest and Central Europe. The book is dedicated to the memory of his mother and to his father both of whom emerge as remarkable presences in the book, as does the poet himself, rather more so than the city of Budapest which remains curiously elusive, coming and going in and out of focus from poem to poem. 'The First, Second, Third and Fourth Circles' uses a Dantean trope to give Budapest an infernal character, but this is not helped by the pseudo-pyrotechnics of the first part which consists of a thirty-five line single sentence made up of a string of relative clauses. There is an absence of the sense of the two cities of Buda and Pest divided by the river. Perhaps such simple contrasts are beneath Szirtes' notice.

Szirtes' introductory essay briefly describes his family's escape from Hungary in 1956, his learning of English and his early attempts to write at art college in Leeds under the mentorship of the Group poet, Martin Bell. It seems that Szirtes was 'hurt into poetry' by the suicide of his mother in 1975 with memories of his early childhood in Budapest becoming central to his work. Szirtes is Jewish by birth and it can be asserted with justification that the Holocaust is a powerful underlying ...


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