Author's page

Ágnes GERGELY
( 1933 )

Biography

1933 born in Endrőd; spends her childhood in the southern Hungarian town of Zalaegerszeg
1940-50 school years in Budapest and Szeged
1950-53 during the communist dictatorship, trains as a lathe operator
1953-57 graduates in Hungarian and English from Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest
1957-63 teaches in elementary, then secondary schools
1963-71 journalist, works for the Hungarian Radio
1971-74 on the staff of the literary journal Élet és Irodalom
1973-74 guest of the International Writing Program of the University of Iowa
1974 editor at Szépirodalmi Publishers
1977-88 columnist at the journal Nagyvilág
1978 member of the international jury of the Neustadt Prize for Literature
1979 obtains doctorate
1988-present freelance writer
1992-2002 lecturer at Post-Graduate School of English and American Studies, Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest

Her main prizes:
1977, 1987 Attila József prize; 1985, 1995 Tibor Déry prize; 1988 Book of the Year prize; 1994 Milán Füst prize; 1995 Salvatore Quasimodo prize; 1996 Kortárs prize, Getz Corporation prize; 2000 Kossuth prize

Cobalt Country
1978

Built on dreams and childhood mythology, Ágnes Gergely s imaginary Cobalt Country is no social parable, but rather an allegorical utopia embodying the feelings and existential doubts of the modern man. The poems of the book are linked together and framed by a story told in prose. As Encelado XVII, King of Cobalt Country, discusses the main issues of existence with his fool, the philosophical conversation expresses a view of life full of doubts and irony.

From the Years of Barbarism
1998

The subtitle of the book, 52 "older" and "newer" poems, may well imply the utmost care with which Ágnes Gergely constantly re-writes her texts, making them at times drier and more graphic, at times smoother. Her poetry is characterized by passion pressed into strict form, the alternation of axiomatic density and surprising turns of thought, as well as allusions to literary and cultural sources and personal mythology. The poems are in constant interplay with texts by other, classical or contemporary, poets. The “newer” poems are worth reading alongside The Unguarded.

The Unguarded
2000

Gergely s fourth novel is more like a ballad. Karen, a young Hungarian widow with a daughter, Daniela, and stepdaughter, Detti, meets Carlos, a widower of German and South American parentage, at a poetry reading in Finland in the early 1980s. With Daniela's deteriorating illness and Detti's car accident making life even more difficult, Karen and Carlos hope to be redeemed from their painful memories through their love, but the political bureaucracy in Hungary, hindering free movement of the country's citizens to the "West", presents a further obstacle, and Carlos, who is making a film about a female Swedish spy and double agent, is watched with suspicion. Moreover, the disciplined and good-natured Carlos is blackmailed by his former family to withdraw from the marriage, and he leaves the strong Karen to her own fate.

Jonathan Swift's Nights
2010

Ágnes Gergely’s latest collection of poems, Jonathan Swift éjszakái (Jonathan Swift ’s Nights) is a work of poetic and artistic accounting of sorts. Th e collection of earlier works is not meant to illustrate the earlier stations in the author’s career; instead, this volume takes account of the past and acts as a summary thanks to its tone. The volume evokes Swift ’s Gulliver’s Travels, and like Swift ’s novel, it is divided into four sections. Th e poem that lends its name to the book focuses on the question of individual as well as collective morals and the examination of the meaning of art. In fact, the volume as a whole is centered around the problematics of the meaning of art. The transformation and disappearance of physical matter is the central motif on which all four cycles of the volume hinge. A concurrent preoccupation of the poems is the resolute march of time and the motif of the path, which is also central to the book. Th e journeys that are described are, however, signifi cant not only in their physical reality, for the names that appear (Elisabeth Barrett Browning, Apollinaire, W.H. Auden) and the places mentioned (Toledo, Gibraltar, Florence, Dublin, Vienna, London) evoke Europe’s cultural traditions, to which Ágnes Gergely’s volume is tied not only through direct reference, but also in its view of art. All this is beautifully combined with recollections of past relationships as signaled by the subtitle (“Versek Négy Arckép Alá” - “Poems to Go Beneath Four Portraits”), whereby the poet adds further nuances of meaning to the problematics of the journey and memory. Questions about the meaning of culture are thus approached in the volume from two viewpoints; the fi rst is from the point of view of the poet’s own output, while the second is from the wider vantage point of European civilization. It is through these preoccupations that Ágnes Gergely’s latest volume weighs the dilemmas of art and the artist’s state of being. Fugue But her shoes, I couldn’t throw them out. I kept one of each item, her brown suit, her blue dressing gown, her winter coat, in case she was cold. Her glasses too, both pairs. Maybe she wants to read. Perhaps she ‘ll sit and watch TV. We know not how these profane details will pan out. Her green fl oral summer dress too is here, a heat-wave might follow the cold season. Her sunglasses to hand. Her out of date pills. Memento mori. Of her little headscarves just one or two. But her shoes, her shoes I could not throw out. Her steps on the streets, along the shore , or in the air. As she walks up the mountain ahead of me , I trip and she straightens up. Her eyes help me up. Her hand motionless. Th e hand is for blessing. Our men, they walk far ahead of us, so long since they uttered ,’ May the Eternal One bless you…’ Can blessing become obsolete? Or does it live, as does the Law? Or like fate, turn into curse? And as a step is sucked up by the sand, or caught as a footprint set in concrete, to trip you up, forever to trip you up? We know not how these profane details will pan out. Memento mori. But her shoes no, no I could not , I could not bear, I could not bear to throw them out. Translated by Mari Gömöri

Download contents in PDF!