Monday, 7 December 2009

Ends and breaks: young poets

Today I said goodbye to a group of young undergraduate poets from America. They were such a bright bunch from top universities, bristling with reading - particularly modern but all the general greats as well as Dickinson and Whitman. I liked them a good deal and parting with them after three months or so, with a day a week, was, for me, an oddly sentimental occasion. We have fun in class, at least I always try to make it fun, but fun with passion and intelligence, so we laugh while we concentrate. And that makes for warmth of feeling.

I think one of the hopes of the humanities is to bring the best out of people by bringing out their humanity. The arts can do this particularly well. They can, but don't always, since the arts, especially the making of them, involves vanities and vulnerabilities. Artists cannot be insensible nor can they lack a sense of self: all they can do is to affect insensibility at times, as much for protection as anything else, and they can try to look cool. But sensibility is not enough. Nor is cool. Humanity is a matter of dimensions.

Writing, at best, is a wrought set of dimensions within which it is possible to live. The young poet moves from self to language, makes a self inside language. That language provides its dimensions, the dimensions within which a written self can live. And through those dimensions it begins to explore the world, which is out there and not the self alone, but the wind and the cold and the cry of animals and the whistling of the planets and the voices of others.

It has been a very long day and tomorrow is no shorter. I am down in London at the Hungarian Cultural Centre in Maiden Lane with the US author Arthur Phillips and with Tibor Fischer, discussing 1989. University in the morning, train in the afternoon, event in the evening, train at night.


Albert Lázaro-Tinaut said...

Your blog is very interesting, Mr. Szirtes. Sok boldogságot! I have linked it in mine.
Best wishes from Barcelona.

Gwil W said...

I'm with you, George!
I sometimes have the feeling, or the impression, that I'm running some sort of poetry class.

Almost daily, as regular as clockwork, 40 to 50 of visitors to my humble blog are coming in from the USA. Often it's the same colleges. Often they stay quite long. They delve in corners I've long forgotten about.

Not long ago a whole bunch of them turned up on some kind of Internet Treasure Hunt. It seems I was a clue.

I love them. They are just.., well all so very interested.

Billy C said...

George. I cannot help but think that those young people will remember you and your input into their lives for a very long time. Your command of the English language and all it's nuances, and the way you make it dance: sometimes like a tango, other times a waltz or a ballet or a fandango, and even the twist, is fascinating.

Kathleen Jones said...

have just read your latest post. I, like you, am saddened by what is happening in Hungary now. I was there, briefly in 1990 with a trade delegation to report on the 'opening up' of the eastern bloc but was also there for the re-interment of Imre Nagy, which made a deep impression.
On this post - please can I quote your third paragraph in a review I'm doing of 'the Burning of the Books adn other poems' on my own personal bookblog?
Kathleen Jones

George S said...

You're all being very kind and it is much appreciated.

Good to meet you, Albert - I wish I were a Spanish speaker. I notice that 'por las culturas finoúgrias y balticas...' and, of course, the 'sok boldogságot'. Thank you very much.

And Kathleen, I would be delighted for you to use the paragraph and will look forward to reading the piece. Again, I am very grateful to you that you should write it.

Alan said...

Here's a young poet's journey through craft and the lessons learned along the way. Please read it at