A review of Ágnes Nemes Nagy's 'Between' (Poetry Ireland)

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This was published sometime ago, though I decided to rescue my material off Poetry Ireland in the wake of their decision to explode their forum (2000-2013). The piece is till up on their site, I …

This was published sometime ago, though I decided to rescue my material off Poetry Ireland in the wake of their decision to explode their forum (2000-2013). The piece is till up on their site, I checked.

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  • 1. Book Reviews Agnes Nemes Nagy : Between Chris Murray "I  have  no  serious  doubt,"  observed  George  Szirtes  in  his  Introduction  to  The  Night  of  Akhenaton, a selection  of her poetry,  "that Ágnes Nemes Nagy is one of the great indispensable poets  of the twentieth century."   Agnes  Nemes  Nagy  (1922­1991)  was  a  Hungarian  poet,  author,  political  writer  and activist, whose  life,  as  for  so  many  of  her  generation,  was  defined  by  the  Second  World  War,  and  particularly by  the  friends  she  knew  who   died  in   Auschwitz.  Between  by  Agnes  Nemes  Nagy  and  translated  by Hugh  Maxton  comprises  the  largest  translated  collection  of  Nagy’s  work  into  English,  and is published by Dedalus in Dublin and Corvina in Budapest. Angels  are  always  terrifying in Nagy and often allied to tree and branch symbols. Her imagery in general is  often  'off­centre';  she  wrote  about  the  process  of  writing  as  “I  think  it  is   the  duty  of  the  poet  to obtain citizenship for an increasing horde of nameless emotions”.
  • 2. On board ship carried Statues, Huge faces unrecognised On board ship carried statues To stand on the island. Between nose and ears Perfect right angle Otherwise blank. On board ship carried statues And so I sank ­ 'I Carried Statues'
  • 3. “Terraced Landscape' is a prose piece which visually describes movement through time through the poem's 34 separate planes or terraces: Zero Plane. Now nothing is visible.Yet something continues To sound, in a fragmentary fashion, breaking down, Swelling. Do you hear it? Up there somewhere, Towering little domes like the roofing of a city, unknown bells inside” Zero Plane is the poem's introduction, while the overall structure is cyclical, so that the white noise at the end of Level 34 seques back to the beginning, Zero Plane. Not all the levels are described, yet all things acquire depth and shape, everyday objects swell and become, they lose their flatness. This reminds me of Sylvia Plath’s 'I love the thingness of things’, and of how familiar objects become so alien or so intimate to the observer that they acquire a symbolic importance.
  • 4. The poem ‘Lazarus’ ­ ‘Round his left shoulder, as he got up slowly Every day’s Muscle gathered in agony His death was flayed off him like a gauze Because second birth has such harsh laws ­ recalls Leonard Baskin’s Hanged Man’, a lithograph from the Fifties of the Hanged man from the Tarot deck, an image not only of torture but also a warning that the poet and artist must consistently engage with the world whatever the cost.
  • 5. Between is divided into short poems and cycles, two essays and some prose, with Nagy herself contributing the foreword. Hugh Maxton talks of the translation / collaboration process at the back of the book, but between intro and postscript the images and words create, for this reader, visual monuments, portals into a mythos and an often sublime awareness.
  • 6. Hanged Man Agnes Nemes Nagy, Between, (Dedalus Press), translated by Hugh Maxton. Book Reviews Agnes Nemes Nagy : Between Chris Murray