Important Notice: The following appears after correspondence with George Szirtes here and elsewhere. It represents the opinions and views of Poet-in-Residence.
P-i-R is fully aware that poets are not the ones making the money, if indeed there is any real money to be made from the publishing of contemporary poetry books. There is no suggestion whatsoever on P-i-R that George Szirtes is in any way responsible for the pricing of his books. Pricing is a matter for the publisher. Publishers carry potential classic winners and non-runners. Szirtes falls into the first category. One day he may even win the Nobel Prize. He is not without a chance. Bloodaxe also supports many unknown poets including a few no-hopers. That sales of these lesser poets works will not be large is putting it mildly. It all costs money -this is clear. P-i-R's concern in raising this debate is that poetry does not become a middle class coffee table sideshow. In other words P-i-R is saying that poetry books MUST NOT price themselves out of reach of the workers, the students, the housewives, the unemployed. Now read on.
George Szirtes' new collection, a 448 page paperback tome, titled simply 'New & Collected Poems' (Bloodaxe), is due out on 29th November 2008. Poet-in-Residence mentions this with some concern because the book weighs in pricewise at a hefty GBP15.00p - plus GBP3.75p p&p for EU residents. This total GBP18.75 (about €30.00 - or getting on for US$38.00) is in Hungary, these days an EU country, where George hails from and where he presumably has something of a following, viel Geld*! (*a lot of money)
A lot of midnight oil has gone into 'New & Collected Poems'. Szirtes is also teaching at East Anglia University and he will soon be judging the Strokestown Poetry Competition so he's a very busy man.
East Anglia is a pleasant but expensive area of Britain - the Queen has her summer residence in that neck of the sand dunes for example. It's an area for people with plenty of folding money or very flexible credit cards.
The point that Poet-in-Residence is coming to, and it has nothing really to do with George Szirtes, is the high price of poetry books these days. Poetry appears to be in danger of becoming a middle-class coffee table hobby. Firms like Bloodaxe appear to be driving the price of poetry books out of the reach of the Man on the Chain Bridge - the ordinary man in the street in Budapest, or even in Vienna where P-i-R is currently ensconced.
The half-page advert for Szirtes' 'New & Collected Poems' in the latest Bloodaxe Catalogue features the following - given as an example of the Szirtes focus on the possibility of happiness and apprehension of disaster which, if the blurb is anything to go by, appears to be the main theme of the book.
He watched her skip across the street and take
a moment to look back at him. His heart
stopped in its tracks, as thought it had fallen apart
for a moment then reassembled. It was the ache
remained, as though life had suddenly shrunk
to one thin cord that was being sounded deep
beneath the flesh, like being half-asleep
then awake, like being doped or drunk
yet clear, as if life had been this dizziness
of atoms and molecules and chance events
out of which the towering moments rose
on stilts, on points, balancing on less
than atoms and was a transforming of moments
if only because the floor vanishes, the moment goes.
On an brighter note Poet-in-Residence finds that there are poetic bargains to be found by the man on the 41 tram if he's prepared to be diligent and shop around. P-i-R's latest purchase for example: 'Collected Poems in English' by Joseph Brodsky (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) 540 pages, €15.00/US$19.00.