Bookseller Information

ISBN
9781844714896
Extent
128pp
Format
Hardback
Publication Date
15-Jan-09
Publication Status
Out of print
Subject
Poetry by individual poets
Trim Size
216 x 140mm

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Books are my bag

Next to Nothing

Synopsis

Next to Nothing records the years following the death of a beloved child in 2001. Though bereft of belief in the poetic outcome compared to the apocalypse of the loss itself (one sense of the title), the fidelity of these poems to the “heartscapes” of grief constitutes, nonetheless, a work of genuine honouring – spare, delicate, and deeply moving.

Of the collection in general, Agee has written:

“In addition to individual poems and several sequences, Next to Nothing includes a section entitled ‘Heartscapes’, which consists of 59 ‘micro-poems’, as I call them. Many of these are extremely short; most were written during the very bleak and soul-sick year of 2003; and the whole section (with one poem per page) will take no more than thirty minutes to read, and indeed can be read with ease by any general intelligent reader, whatever their familiarity with or experience of poetry. Swiftness of effect was, in fact, part of the intention and fidelity; the challenge here as throughout the book was to record true and deep ‘heart-feeling’ (as opposed to the ‘feeling’ of sensibility, apperception, historical moment, etc.) – that most delicate of poetic material, owing to the swiftness of emotion itself. For once, I think I can say that these poems wrote themselves, in the sense of my being a quite passive amanuensis caught up in pain rather than any sort of instigator – drawing on the habit of technique belonging to what had become a previous life, whilst suddenly also bereft of belief in the poetic outcome compared to the apocalypse of the loss itself – that is to say, the textual as ‘next to nothing’, in several distinct senses, like Matisse’s sparest line-drawings in a sea of blank space ...”

Reviews of this Book

‘It is a profound and exceptionally moving book. I haven’t read anything so powerful for a long time. I was left with a sense of both the fragility and the huge importance of the here and now, as well as with an expanded sense of poetry’s capacity.”’ —Hugh Dunkerley, The London Magazine

‘Next to love, grief is the great enabler of poems. In many ways grief is more powerful than love, whether in fiction or poetry. Love, especially if it is a happy collaboration between adults, excludes us from its golden circle even as readers, whereas grief, with its sense of crisis and abandonment, ignites our sense of humanity and calls us to become a part of its urgent business. In this, his latest collection of poems, the American born, Belfast-based poet, Chris Agee, has created a compelling, grief-stricken narrative.’ —Thomas McCarthy, Irish Times

Praise for Previous Work

First Light is very fine work indeed. Agee seems to have hit that fine balance between allusiveness and clarity, and formal control and spontaneity, that so few poets manage nowadays.”’ —Don Paterson

‘This is outstanding, mysterious, and beautiful work, and it deserves an American audience.’ —Emerson Blake

‘There are many reasons the book might be long-awaited and why it should be spoken well of. Agee’s lyric gift is considerable … In the very first poem, ‘Seacave,’ he tells us how, ‘You could hear the furious sizzle of midsummer crickets/Droning their hoarse heat-song and timed threnody/To a noon crescendo.’ It is one of a series of tours de force.’ —George Szirtes, The Irish Times

‘With First Light, Chris Agee makes a formidable impression with poems that show commitment, range, learning, skill, seriousness. Here is a poet that does not shirk the labour that Ezra Pound referred to when he said that each moment of inspiration has to be paid for in advance. Agee is in the line – or perhaps the wake – of the great modernists in that he has learned and absorbed their attitudes and methods. His poems are usually easily intelligible, but do not cater to the reader, frequently making references to places and people with whom he or she cannot be too familiar. An exciting tension runs through his work … It is refreshing to find someone writing so well as the opposite pole from the jokey postcard-type verse that so many now think is adequate. A celebratory if rigorous humanism pervades this book.’ —Rory Brennan, Books Ireland

‘Agee is a good carpenter. There’s a restraint and control in particular in the poems, which comes to counterpoint their detailed imagery … Agee is not merely interested in creating a language of description, however. His descriptions break into meditation, question and assertion in a way which suggests that his real interest lies in the attempt to render his own individual consciousness of time and place. There’s something Proustian in the enterprise … There’s also something of W.G. Sebald in the way Agee mixes factual detail and reflection in an attempt to create a kind of personal intellectual climate … The fidelity to his own experience that marks all of his poetry, is vital to its success.’ —John Knowles, Fortnight

Time [the second section, a mixture of poetry and prose] is of particular interest to me because of its wrestling with the hopelessly corrupted but indispensable word ‘spirit’, but many of the other pieces attracted me too. At first I felt Time as a succession of little obstacles – not understanding ‘the first spoor of an overnight mushroom’, wondering about ‘like’ a few lines further down – but then I suddenly fell into step with it and admired the richness and density of your notation of, especially, visual sensation. I disagreed with one reviewer’s objection to such references as that to Messiaen; the fact that it’s a cultural reference is already saying something complex and unparaphrasable-in-brief about wildbirdsong.’ —Tim Robinson

‘Praise for In the New Hampshire Woods (1992). In Chris Agee’s poetry, the richness of sound is the manifestation of a richness of thought. Line after line, there are quiet surprises of diction, cadence, accuracy. His awe of and his reverence for the visible world, the ‘bounty of Creation,’ remind me sometimes of Jeffers, but he is utterly without Jeffers’ sour misanthropy: only a profound sorrow for human failure in the face of so much radiance. He is a religious poet in an irreligious age. And at a time when so many poets huddle in a cramped vernacular, abandoning some of our strongest and sweetest words to the oblivion of dictionaries and crossword puzzles, I particularly prize his poems for their calmly sumptuous language, their overflowings, their adorations. They glitter with light, like the deep.’ —Robert Mezey

‘Agee's poems evoke the original world of the creation, not nature, seen in the light of that first day, which still reaches us.”’ —Samuel Menashe

‘Chris Agee's imagination is fine-tuned to the frequencies of matter itself and all its animate manifestations. Under his rapt, celebratory gaze his chosen American and Irish landscapes throb and shine. What I admire most about his work is the way he finds for all this multitudinous, kinetic, dazzling life an answerable style – a language not only lyrical, particular, richly descriptive, but always (and increasingly in the more recent work) informed with philosophical purpose, a purpose that edges effortlessly and unsentimentally into the realm of the spirit, of ‘that which is neither sacred nor profane.’ His poems keep reminding us that ‘the world is a gift.’ It is a gift, however, never to be taken lightly, for it is also, he knows a passing mystery, ‘our soul’s milk and honey.’ In their mixture of observation, contemplation, and invention, as well as in the style Agee fashions for himself by blending American and Irish poetic registers, these poems create their own distinctive space and sound.’ —Eamon Grennan

‘Chris Agee's careful documentation of nature, his eschewal of cleverness, his poetry's modest refusal to be ‘about’ anything, will not be unfamiliar to reader of American poets such as Charles Wright, Gary Snyder or, most importantly, William Carlos Williams.’ —Devin Johnston, The Honest Ulsterman

‘In The New Hampshire Woods is a memorable collection. In its total-absolute drive for empathy with the ‘natural’ world, I have not seen much to challenge it. Agee’s work draws on the Imagists, the Japanese, on Celtic affinities, Hopkins – but goes beyond to form its own coherent and classical vision …’ —John Ennis, Poetry Ireland Review

‘The book as a whole leaves one in no doubt that here is a considerable talent … Agee’s language is charged, energetic, and various. Despite the poet’s immediate response to the world of the senses, this is a highly intertextual book, peppered with allusions to Auden, Lowell, Frost and Eliot, to name a few. Agee’s energetic evocation of the whaling history of New England has the passionate intensity of Lowell’s ‘A Quaker Graveyard in Nantucket.’ —Jonathan Allison, The Irish Literary Supplement (USA)

‘The genius loci of In the New Hampshire Woods might seem far from Irish, but even in the book's North American section there are pleasure of recognition for anyone attuned to our natural world … whether his poems speak of Rathlin or Rhode Island, gannets or loons, they mirror one driftwood shore of the Atlantic in the other: a continuum explored with accomplishment and understanding.’ —Michael Viney, The Irish Times

‘His poems are rich with classical allusions, often Platonic in spirit, but also tense with tactile imagery. Agee’s sense of geography is particularly acute, and his feel for history highly sensitive. The first part deals with American landscapes, mainly in New England, and the second with Irish ones. He is breathtakingly daring in the risks he takes … Agee is also fond of rare words like ‘uberous’ and ‘banausic,’ always making it evident no other world would have done. Of the four poets I have reviewed, Agee’s voice is the most distinctive, even though it appears to be so reminiscent of Transcendentalists like Emerson and Thoreau …’ —Mario Relich, Lines Review

‘But those literary comparisons are helpful only up to a point. Agee is not captive to earlier styles, and although his poems are intended more to delight than instruct, they frequently show his ability to think – as well as to perceive and feel – in an individual way. Many of his sensory and contemplative apprehensions act magnetically on reserves not only of personal memory but also of scholarship, attracting tiny fragments of history, mythology, philosophy (eastern and western) literature, painting and various sciences. Hence spectral vistas are often added to concrete particulars, so that the poems are linked with a humanity far beyond the observer’s’ —Richard Kell, Iron





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