George Szirtes

Disapprove If You Dare

Collected Poems 1963-1980

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Blessings, Kicks and Curses

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The Private Art: A Poetry Notebook

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‘I am not one to say no to a blessing’ says Geoffrey Grigson in his poem on the burial of Auden, ‘Occasion in Westminster Abbey’. Yet the title of his recently collected essays and reviews, Blessings, Kicks and Curses shows that blessings are but part of his experience; the kicks and curses come as naturally. Indeed one might in a facetious mood see Grigson as some gouty and splenetic retired military man living in the country, who is regularly seized by black moods in which he mutters up the garden looking for disgusting things to stamp on. Edith Sitwell for instance: ‘no interior light even of that coldest luminescent kind.’ Dylan Thomas: ‘a stale sentimentalism of language … always the inferior choice … a provincial of poetry.’ Gertrude Stein: ‘an ectoparasite’, Michael Holroyd’s Augustus John: ‘toadying’. Or more generally and more regularly, incompetent modern poets: ‘idle …off our own muckheaps’, academics and university poets: ‘short lived, fish-finger packets precisely with a sub-bourgeois taste of cod, flour, bread crumbs and batter.’ These images of physical disgust imply that the kind of people he dislikes are actually some form of sickness so abhorrent that if the body poetic is to survive at all it must vomit them up. Grigson commends a purgative. If it seems to us that on occasion the medicine is nastier than the condition warrants, that is not to say that the physician’s diagnosis is wrong or that his ideal of health is undesirable.

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