The New Delta Blues

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George Szirtes – Mapping the Delta (Bloodaxe)

These poems now leer out of the pages with increased significance. The title piece is about a globalised world that now feels like it is shrinking:

‘There’s no exhaustive language. The maps are a start, in gathering up strands of a notional heart.’

Out this year, it feels old already, this poem. A piece called ‘Bartok’ follows on, it describes how eastern European folk music became transcribed, with all of its atonality for the concert hall, so that those audiences could hear music that ‘screeched and snapped like bullets freshly fired’.

The preceding poem describes the old men of this even older landscape, respectably concealing trenches with corpses in them. The plucked strings and bleary ravaged landscape of Bartok’s String Quartet No.4 in C., Movement III rises to the surface.

Szirtes virtually inhabits your body with his description, via his own music, which is not the same as Bartok’s, even though he came from Hungary. From those landscapes.

But now, after Brexit, after Trump… This is not just a great collection of poetry (it is) this is an essential book of any sort for our newly darkened times.

It is an actual map. I fear that we are all going to need it.

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