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This review is taken from PN Review 159, Volume 31 Number 1, September - October 2004.

THE NAMELESS EMOTIONS ÁGNES NEMES NAGY, The Night of Akhenaton: Selected Poems, translated by George Szirtes (Bloodaxe) £8.95
KATE SCOTT, Stitches (Peterloo Poets) £7.95
DOROTHY MOLLOY, Hare Soup (Faber) £8.99
JANE DRAYCOTT, The Night Tree (Oxford Poets) £7.95
MATTHEW HOLLIS, Ground Water (Bloodaxe) £7.95

When the century fell into step beside me I couldn't quite tell which one it was. (`A Terraced Landscape')

Ágnes Nemy Nagy is one of Hungary's greatest twentieth century poets, possibly Europe's and we are fortunate to have this excellent translation.

I would advocate reading this book from the back - where Szirtes reprints an introduction by Nemes Nagy to translations of her work, beginning `The poems which follow were written by a Hungarian poet'. This is preceded by her great `Late Poems'. Before that comes the less successful but still brilliant earlier work. Here, rhymes obtrude, and the slips and gaps of the translation process, or possibly the agglutinations of Hungarian (allowing for more rhyming possibilities than English), become more noticeable. Still, these create interstices through which the original `source' poems can breathe. Finally, the book opens with Szirtes' explanatory note-filled introduction, brimming with enthusiasm.

Szirtes refers to Nemes Nagy's work as a crystalline mountain. I prefer her own image:

                                                   The oak
proceeded, dragging on raw roots
still shedding earth,
                                                                                     (`Night Oak')

Her landscape is often human, often female, her sunset is `plunged daggers', and darkness lurks beneath the surface, coming to the fore in `Balaton''s shocking images of drowning, decapitation and crucifixion that float Ophelia-like on water:

her dark head lost in stumpy reeds
her still neck gently dandled by
brief ringlets.
...
Who'd ...


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