This from Anna McKerrow at the Book Trust, ahead of the Eliot Prize awards in about a week and a half's time...
The title-named series of 14 poems in George Szirtes’ The Burning of the Books and other poems links neatly into a sense of place seen through the prism of species or class identification: unlike plants that are wilfully misclassified, here, books and libraries lose their power to organise and inspire and instead are collaged with cities and mobs into one chaotic and beautiful whole, which is then flayed and burned alive. The semi-narrative sequence of these 14 poems, which in themselves seem to employ a patchwork or collage structure, explores the emotive and uncompromising practice of book burning.
'By a course of intensive study in the appropriate libraries,
Those burning places of the intellect, those driers out
Of the eyes where barbarians gather with their torches
And rank upon rank of shelves, tongues and footnotes
Are burning as always, as is their nature, in the streets
Of the city that opens like a book and must itself always be burning.'
The extreme and expansive passion in these poems are what struck me, and what has me now keeping my fingers firmly crossed for Szirtes to win the prize again (he won in 2004 for Reel). Indeed, as the reader, you feel your eyes and fingers burning as you read Szirtes’ seemingly effortless yet gloriously incendiary verse. The burning of books in the title of his book relates to a hateful exercise in ignorance and intolerance carried out at many times during history, but it could also be said to reflect the burning intellect and the fire of creativity. Thus, books are symbols of the human desire for knowledge and communication, for something above the body’s basic needs – books that burn with potential:
'Life is annotation. Hunger and annotation. It is knowledge
We hunger for, letters we drink, desire in our bloodstream
For the fat, visceral, blood-bound flesh of our books.'
(From 'Consuming Passion')
The Burning of the Books and other poems is a large work that deserves an entry to itself.
It's a lovely cheering review on a cold day. I am going in to the local BBC studio on Friday morning to record three short poems (they can't be more than a minute long, which rules out all the title sequence). One of them might be used on the Today programme next week. But then again it might not.