George Szirtes (b. 1948) was born in Hungary and came to England as a refugee with his parents—survivors of concentration and labour camps—after the 1956 Hungarian uprising. He was brought up in London, going on to study fine art in London and Leeds, and achieving literary prominence as a poet, translator, editor and broadcaster. His first book, The Slant Door (1979), won the Faber Memorial Prize. Bridge Passages (1991) was shortlisted for the Whitbread Poetry Prize. Reel (2004) won the T.S. Eliot Prize, for which he was again shortlisted for The Burning of the Books (2009) and Bad Machine (2013). For his translation work Szirtes has won several awards, including the Dery Prize for Imre Madach’s The Tragedy of Man (1989) and the European Poetry Translation Prize for Zsuzsa Rakovsky’s New Life (1994). His translations of László Krasznahorkai’s works were awarded the Best Translated Book Award in the US (2013, for Satantango) and the Man Booker International Prize (2015). He has also written extensively for radio and is the author of more than a dozen plays, musicals, opera libretti, and oratorios.
While studying painting at Leeds with Martin Bell, Szirtes began to develop his poetic themes: an engaging mix of British individualism and European fluency in myth, fairy tale, and legend. The tension in Szirtes’ haunting poems is partly a result of displacement and the consequent negotiation between a European sensibility and English culture. His poems reject the simplifications that belonging—to a country, religion or political movement—can demand. Thus the process of assimilation is satirised in ‘Preston North End’ where his Englishness is learnt through football’s tribal loyalties until “I pass the Tebbitt test. I am Alan Lamb,/Greg Rusedski, Viv Anderson, the boy/from the corner shop,
Solskjaer and Jaap Stam.” Though he offers no easy narratives or identities he understands the impulse to try and make sense of the world through them. It’s the still slightly foreign music of his voice, the accent that is hard to place, which expresses the complexities of his work so beautifully.
Listen to George on BBC Radio 3’s John Tusa Interviews:
Unfortunately, due to personal circumstances Bridget is no longer able to speak at the seminar. You may still be interested in her very relevant work.
Bridget Byrne Dr Bridget Byrne is Senior Lecturer in Sociology at the University of Manchester and co-investigator in CoDE (Centre on the Dynamics of Ethnicity and Inequality), funded by the ESRC. She studied at Cambridge and Sussex universities, and has worked previously at the LSE and Goldsmiths in London.
Bridget’s main research interests are in the area of citizenship, race and gender. Her book White Lives: the Interplay of ‘race’, class and gender in everyday life (Routledge 2006) was joint winner of the BSA Philip Abrams Award 2006. The book was based on extensive research on the construction of white identity in Britain, looking at the experience of white mothers of young children in two areas of London. This also involved examining the changing constructions of British and English national identities.
In 2014 she published Making Citizens: public rituals and private journeys to citizenship (Palgrave), which was based on research funded by Leverhulme Fellowship (2010/2011) and a small grant from the British Academy (2010/2011). It examined the representations of nation and migration in citizenship ceremonies across the UK and in Australia, Canada, the USA, the Netherlands and Ireland. It also explored new UK citizens’ experiences of migration and perceptions of whether they were welcomed to the UK.
She has also held an ESRC small grant on ‘School choice and local place’ (2009/10, with Carla deTona), which examined parental approaches to secondary school choice in order to explore the ways in which space and locality impact on identity, in particular through research on the racialised and classed nature of school catchment areas. Alongside various articles, she is currently writing up this research in a book on School Choice.
Listen to Bridget on Radio 4’s Thinking Allowed: