George Szirtes on Belfast to Baillieston

George Szirtes on Belfast to Baillieston

Known and widely respected as a poet and translator, George Szirtes’ memoir, The Photographer at Sixteen, centred on his mother’s life, is a powerful exploration of how big history bears down on individual families. In his 2019 review, the Guardian’s Blake Morrison described it as ‘a brilliant, scrupulous portrait’. It is a book that moved me hugely and resonated with some of the themes I explore in Belfast to Baillieston.

I am grateful for George’s words below on my work.

Charlie Gracie’s Belfast to Ballieston opens a window on the historical lot, over more than a hundred years, not only of the Gracie family but also their class. We see events and moments in the specific family’s life, from work in the mills in the nineteenth century, through life in the mines, including emigration, and the Troubles. It shows a time filled with suffering, intimacy, and the early death common to those who worked in those industries. The story is told chiefly through poetry that is close to tongue and ear, the voices alive and spare. It is indeed living people we are facing, addressing us in living language. This is a splendid, deeply moving book, both as tribute and witness.

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