Proust Questionnaire: 17 questions with George Szirtes
By Yong Shu Hoong
Born in Budapest in 1948, George Szirtes has lived in England since arriving as an eight-year-old refugee, one of the 200,000 Hungarians displaced by the country's 1956 revolution. So from his writing and biography, it is easy to detect that he is torn between cultures (his poems embed English and European themes) and languages (besides writing in English, he is also an accomplished translator of Hungarian poems, novels, plays and essays).
Szirtes and his wife, artist Clarissa Upchurch, have two children. Trained in fine art in Leeds and London, he has taught art and creative writing at educational institutions like Norwich School of Art and Design and the University of East Anglia. He returned to his birthplace for the first time in 1984, and has since won various awards and accolades in the field of translation.
His numerous books of poetry include the Faber Memorial Prize-winning debut collection, The Slant Door (1979), and Bridge Passages (1991), which was shortlisted for the Whitbread Poetry Prize. Reel (2004) won the T.S. Eliot Prize, while his latest collection, Bad Machine (2013), was shortlisted for the same prize.
Active on social media, Szirtes writes poems on Twitter and posts near-final drafts on Facebook – for example, a poem 'Waking from the Disaster' (dated March 11, 2014), which alludes to the mysterious disappearance of a Malaysia Airlines jetliner. In a Facebook post, he describes the process of writing poetry on social media as "intriguing", admitting that it is exciting to have his words "exposed, immediately, to any passing reader." Explaining that such a process has generated poems that have excited him, he adds, "Klee said drawing was taking a line for a walk. This is rather like that kind of walk. You walk off into a forest and have to find your way to somewhere while continually glimpsing events beyond your path."
1. What are you reading right now?
2. If you were a famous literary character in a novel, play, or poem, who would you be, and why?
3. What is the greatest misconception about you?
4. Name one living author and one dead author you identify with most, and tell us why.
5. Do you believe in writer's block? If so, how do you overcome it?
6. What qualities do you admire most in a writer?
7. What is one trait you deplore most in writing or writers?
8. Can you recite your favourite line from a literary work or a piece of advice from a writer?
9. Complete this sentence: Few people know this, but I…
10. At the movies, if you have to pick a comedy, a tragedy, or an action thriller to watch, which will you go for, and why?
11. What is your favourite word, and what is your least favourite one?
12. Write a rhyming couplet that includes the following three items: border, slant, hype.
You're at the border then you start to type.
13. What object is indispensable to you when you write?
14. What is the best time of the day for writing?
15. If you had a last supper, which three literary figures, real or fictional, would you invite to the soiree, and why?
16. How do you divide your time between poetry writing and translation work, and if time is an issue, would you sacrifice one love for the other?
17. What would you write on your own tombstone?