George Szirtes was born in Budapest and came to England as an eight-year-old refugee following the 1956 Uprising. Having studied sciences at school, he went to art college and ended up a writer. He has written some dozen books of poetry, the first of which, The Slant Door, won the Faber Prize and the most recent, Reel, the TS Eliot Prize in 2005. George also translates fiction and poetry from the Hungarian, has edited a variety of anthologies and written a monograph on the Brazilian artist Ana Maria Pacheco. He blogs at George Szirtes.
Why do you blog? > Accident, habit and compulsion. My son designed a website for me with a News section. I thought it would be dull simply to put dates of appearances or publications there, so I began to think aloud on the hoof and it stuck.
What has been your best blogging experience? > The contact with other bloggers across a range of fields whose own thoughts have sharpened mine.
What are your favourite blogs? > Professor Geras certainly figures here; I contribute to the Drink-Soaked Trots albeit infrequently so maybe I can mention them. For poetry the American Reginald Shepherd is very good. And Shuggy. I like these people as people. I also like Snoopy the Goon. None of them are like me, but that is why I like them.
Who are your intellectual heroes? > There is a book by the Irish columnist Fintan O'Toole titled No More Heroes, about the concept of heroism in Shakespeare, that is really a cry against the 'great men' concept of history as presented in drama. I myself think there have been great men and women who have changed the world but heroes seem to demand something unconditional. Very well: Walter Benjamin, George Orwell, Blaise Pascal.
What are you reading at the moment? > The Fighter, a book of essays by Tim Parks, and Fire in the Blood by Irène Nemirovsky (both for review).
Who are your cultural heroes? > Eliot, Auden, Picasso, Braque, Zbigniew Herbert. No major heroes in the last 30 years but plenty of admirations. W.G. Sebald, for example.
What is the best novel you've ever read? > Dead Souls by Gogol.
What is your favourite poem? > It would be between two Coleridges, 'Kubla Khan' and 'Frost at Midnight', Marvell's 'Horatian Ode', Louis MacNeice's 'Snow', and Eliot's 'The Waste Land'. Oh, very well, Eliot. Today, that is.
What is your favourite movie? > Les Enfants du Paradis or L'Atalante. I love Bringing up Baby. Thirties screwball comedy generally.
Who is your favourite composer? > Beethoven. (The Late Quartets.)
What philosophical thesis do you think it most important to disseminate? > Can I do a bundle of four: 1) The freedom of the imagination. 2) Courage. 3) Generosity. 4) Doubt. I know it's not a thesis, Norm, more a set of values, but I'm a poet so claim special privileges. I can put it into rhyme if you prefer.
What philosophical thesis do you think it most important to combat? > That God is on your side.
Can you name a work of non-fiction which has had a major and lasting influence on how you think about the world? > Primo Levi's If This is a Man. It covers the range of human behaviour with extraordinary dignity, which is the one quality you would not expect to have arisen out of the circumstances. I love that dignity. My own mother was interred in concentration camps but never spoke about it. She wouldn't have trusted herself to do so.
Who are your political heroes? > Well, let's go humble but not too humble. Clem Attlee would be a good start. In Hungary Imre Nagy and the president of the post-90s years, Árpád Göncz. I like the practical non-ideological sort who find a situation that is complex but see something better, and however difficult it seems, say: Let's do it. Beyond that, Mandela of course. Martin Luther King. Blah. I had a fondness for Gorbachev too.
What would you do with the UN? > Get in there and argue most of the time but be prepared occasionally to ignore it. Don't keep appealing to it. It's not Holy Writ. In fact, nothing about it is holy.
Do you think the world (human civilization) has already passed its best point, or is that yet to come? > I'll wait till next year before I make up my mind.
Do you think you could ever be married to, or in a long-term relationship with, someone with radically different political views from your own? > No.
What do you consider the most important personal quality? > Silent compassion.
What personal fault do you most dislike? > Moral arrogance.
In what circumstances would you be willing to lie? > 'The poet lies for the improvement of truth. Believe him.' - Charles Tomlinson, 'A Meditation on John Constable'. I meditate on that sometimes. The truth is not always a simple thing. That is its saving grace. I would certainly lie to save someone I wanted to save.
What is your favourite proverb? > For artists: 'The head Sublime, the heart Pathos, the genitals Beauty, the hands and feet Proportion.' (William Blake, 'Proverbs of Hell' from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell).
If you were to relive your life to this point, is there anything you'd do differently? > I would do more to keep up genuine friendships, and occasionally shut up.
Who would play you in the movie about your life? > Dustin Hoffman.
Where would you most like to live (other than where you do)? > Paris. Budapest.
What is your most treasured possession? > The small case of photographs I carried across the Austrian border in 1956.
Who are your sporting heroes? > I'll stick with footballers for now: Bobby Charlton, Johan Cruyff, Zinedine Zidane.
Which English Premiership football team do you support? > Manchester United - since 1958.
How, if at all, would you change your life were you suddenly to win or inherit an enormously large sum of money? > Without wanting to sound pious about this, I have never much cared about large sums of money.
If you could have any three guests, past or present, to dinner who would they be? > William Blake, Pablo Picasso, Lee Miller. Very well, if Blake or Picasso couldn't make it just Lee Miller would do.
[The normblog profile is a weekly Friday morning feature. A list of all the profiles to date, and the links to them, can be found here.]