Ágnes Lehóczky is a poet, academic and translator originally from Budapest. She obtained a PhD in Critical and Creative Writing at UEA in 2011. Her previous poetry collections published in the UK are Budapest to Babel (Egg Box Publishing, 2008), Rememberer (Egg Box Publishing, 2012) and Carillonneur (Shearsman Books, 2014). Her latest full collection Swimming Pool came out by Shearsman (Autumn, 2017). She also has three poetry collections in Hungarian: ikszedik stáció (Universitas, 2000), Medalion (Universitas, Budapest, 2002) and Palimpszeszt (Magyar Napló, Budapest, 2015). Her chapbook, Poems from the Swimming Pool, with some of the early work on swimming pools, was published by Constitutional Information in 2015 and her pamphlet, Pool Epitaphs and Other Love Letters, was published by Boiler House Press in 2017. She was the winner of the Arthur Welton Poetry Award 2010 and the inaugural winner of the Jane Martin Prize for Poetry at Girton College, Cambridge, in 2011. She was Hungary’s representative poet for Poetry Parnassus at Southbank Centre during London’s Cultural Olympiad in Summer 2012. Her collection of essays, Poetry, the Geometry of the Living Substance on the poetry of Ágnes Nemes Nagy, was published in 2011, and her libretto commissioned by Writers’ Centre Norwich & The Voice Project was performed at Norfolk and Norwich Festival 2011.
She co-edited Sheffield Anthology; Poems from the City Imagined (Smith / Doorstop, 2012) with Adam Piette; and recently The World Speaking Back ... to Denise Riley (International anthology) with Zoë Skoulding (Boiler House Press, 2018). She is currently co-editing Wretched Strangers, an anthology of poets’ writing on transnationalism, out from Boiler House Press (2018). She is Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Sheffield where she is also co-director of the Centre for Poetry and Poetics.
School of English, University of Sheffield: https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/english/people/lehoczky
Poems recorded for the Archive are from Pool Epitaphs and Other Love Letters (Boiler House Press, Spring, 2017) and Swimming Pool (Shearman Books, Autumn, 2017).
- Enunciation: The Museologist Swimmer
- Prologos: Apostil 1 / Illuminations 1; I:1 And so when we enter the swimming pool
- Pool Epitaph i; letter I:13 And so on a hot August day
- Pool Epitaph iv; letter IV:13: Apo phainesthai ta phainomena
- Pool Epitaph v; letter V:13: For the poem is grotesque
- Pool Epitaph ix; letter IX:13: Dear floating flneur
- Pool Epitaph xii; letter XII:13: Last Sunday you sent me
- On Catastrophe
- Letter from Terry
- On Another Death of the Moth
- On Matt's Spirit Duplicator
Poetry collections and pamphlets
- Budapest to Babel (Egg Box Publishing, 2008)
- Rememberer (Egg Box Publishing, 2012)
- Carillonneur (Shearsman Books, 2014)
- Palimpszeszt (Magyar Napló, Budapest, 2015)
- Poems from the Swimming Pool (Constitutional Information, 2015)
- Pool Epitaphs and Other Love Letters (Boiler House Press, 2017)
- Swimming Pool (Shearsman Books, 2017)
- Poetry, The Geometry of the Living Substance, Four Essays on Ágnes Nemes Nagy (Cambridge Scholars, 2011)
- The Sheffield Anthology, Poems from the City Imagined, eds. Agnes Lehoczky, Adam Piette, Ann Sansom, Peter Sansom (Smith/Doorstop, 2012)
- The World Speaking Back ... to Denise Riley (International anthology) eds. Ágnes Lehóczky and Zoë Skoulding, with a Preface by Ágnes Lehóczky (Boiler House Press, 2018)
- Forthcoming: Wretched Strangers (anthology of poets’ writing on transnationalism co-edited with J. T. Welsch, Boiler House Press, 2018)
- New Order: Hungarian Poets of the Post 1989 Generation, ed. George Szirtes (Arc Publications, 2010)
Journals & Anthologies:
- Work has appeared in: English (Oxford Journals), Blackbox Manifold, PN Review, Molly Bloom, Datableed, Para-text, Atlantis (Spirit Duplicator), The Wolf, 3:AM Magazine, Locomotive Journal, Long Poem Magazine, Poetry Wales, electric-wood-spectra (Arc Furnace), citybooks, The Ofi Press, S/S/Y/K (Issues 1-5), In Their Own Words (Salt), Dear World and Everyone in It (Bloodaxe), PN Review, The Other Room (anthology), The Sheffield Anthology (Smith/Doorstop), Make It New & Free Verse. Her work translated also appeared in Kluger Hans, Confluences Poetiques, Arterie, No Poesia & citybooks.
from Swimming Pool (Shearsman Books, 2017):
Each summer was a mystery. Each pool a chance. Each poem a secret. But after unbuilding comes the building, a reversal of what is expected to take place. O aquatic typewriter that types lines between the lines. Keep love alive while the typing lasts. At a time when the poem (knowledge and perception) like an artificial pond, unattended, algae-dense, is murky, sans mercy, sans transparency, in what way, one wonders, should one proceed then towards the poem’s seabed, the final resting place of these conflicting conversations, the poem, our Ithaca, the poem, our swimming pool, the poem, our shared fluid tomb whose geography, or borders, we don’t yet know or see, I mean a writing that calls for thinking, the one that tickles souls. How can the anonymous swimmers, the posthumous lovers recognise shapeless, muffled symbols underwater? Is one’s own inner global disaster, one’s private history, auto-nautical crises, lighter, flimsier, even faster, when occurring, and/or experienced, as a swimming pool event? And if so with what methods does the water typist underwater type absurdities, ambiguities, unnameables, micro and macro climaxes of this summer vis-à-vis, heart to heart, between two irreconcilable cartographed others, and disentangle entangled cyclops, and other species of figures of speech in aqua, in the liquefied poem (what is the ultimate point), how will we make sense of the amorous swimmers’ incomprehensible, incompatible discourse? For them each summer offered a mystery. Each pool a chance. Each poem a secret. Each chance a call for comprehension, for a thinking feeling thought en route (again) to Sebald's East Anglian melancholic seashore which now, in our poor aporia, will be our assembly point, where we finally gather ourselves together, in an ideal marginality, at the edge of this island, in the absolute horizontality where one needs to apologize to the other retro-futuristically in a one way correspondence for anything one once will or would have said (before), for all the tricks and all the foul play, all the cheating, all the double-meaning, always somehow ahead of oneself in the past. The calligrapher thinks (might you call it being under duress) the closest perhaps we could ever get to the other’s catastrophe, the fictitious, cataclysmic event, would be to picture the writer, the other, the amorous lover on his final (death)drive (if you will) in Norfolk (towards your seashore), camera attached to his smart forehead when his car crashes with a lorry in Poringland on the Lowestoft Road in the midst of his East Anglian mindscape. And then imagine, you, the alternative other, were you to watch it back on youtube and immediately, as experience a priori yet right after the event, you’d report it back to the world. After building comes the unbuilding. So what shall we talk about in our last summer discourse? And when and where shall we meet our own event, at what detour, at what passage? It’ll soon turn into a game of one player chess, you’ll see, the game of lonely typing; thinking against time. And although the klaviatur now almost animate & intimate (if you will), script made (un)familiar or even uncanny like the strange familiarity of swimming in a swimming pool, immersive perhaps in order to impress the silent literatist, the wordless lettrist, the deaf typist, the posthumous co-author, (the dead reader – if you will), our inner paralytic, numb armchair psychotherapist, perhaps we could proceed on the meridian instead eventually always returning to where we started – with nothing said, felt, thought, not to have moved an inch – collectively, dialogically or otherwise. Or should we today (if you will) perhaps move with the movement of a perplexed swimmer, or some kind of paraphyletic mammal in water, as if swimming to and fro in our story, our local swimming pool, face turned backwards towards the past yet body propelled unstoppably into the future, shifting – thinking, swimming, remembering, even – inch by inch ahead of ourselves in time, a centaur, or an amphibian, a one-eyed aquatic flâneur, half-here, semi-there, flight tipped somewhat sideways in horizontal, historic, histrionic here-&-nows? It’s not the vision but the motion, Aristotle writes. Not comedy, but tragedy that renders absolute completion to the play. Without our inner catastrophic lover, we are lost for ever.
[On Matt’s Spirit Duplicator]
But now that our inner catastrophic lover is gone, and we are left with a dosimeter, a gas mask, a pair of aqualungs and the final task to compose our water poem sans water, to perform pool without pool, to chronicle disaster sans disaster, to write of catastrophe having missed our own, cataclysmic event, drifting without our doomed lover in pool’s dystopia, writing writing from this other end, sans philia, sans heart, sans pool’s safe paraphernalia, in a pool, our most precious thing, emptiful, typing the caricature of the poem, letter by letter on the intimate klaviatur, sans dread, sans desire or even phobia, a purposeless aperture sans catharsis, sans play, how will the empty swimming pool, our hollowed-out poem attract an audience. How will we fulfil our duty, the complex task with which we are left behind: to turn the concave poem into convex, how can we, from this ultimate no end, viva life, viva death! navigate, like the aquatic lettrist sans aqua, our lepidopterist sans love for moths or butterflies or our posthumous poet who cannot meet his own accident, the post-apocalyptic swimmer, pool survivor who missed his or her own fata sua, the lonely lover’s body home through language through litter and letter as if your own short-lived life (although how long is long enough you may rightly wonder, or more precisely how short is short enough to avoid lapsing, hurting, harming within the short time we have before we die) were at stake. Dear typewriter, dear heart. Staring long enough at the tiny piece of blue aquarelle, Esterházy, the celestial swimmer writes pre mortem, but always already from the other end, swimmers, like the poem, or the script, who do not reach the margin in their own lifetime, i.e. the swimmer who desires, i.e. the poem, your most precious thing, a script with a centre, a text with cor, a porous heart, won’t gain entry to the house of emptiness, left to repeat, length after length, line after line itself to and froing from end to end to find its final event, entrapped in its own desire to express, to say something, to endlessly address. So swim your heart out, while you can, as if your own, or the poem’s, for that matter, final chance, its coincidence were at stake. In other words, your power is indeterminate. So betray what matters most, what’s most intimate. Let the swimmer, the poem, the script terminate its own quiet cataclysmic event. Dear typewriter, dear heart, but if, by chance, charm or accident you reach a margin, moving from Alpha to our most private Omega, let the typing move backwards, and move gently from Omega to Alpha and when you have got to the word ending, type circularly, impulsively, accidentally, and start it all over again. Dear typewriter, dear heart. Type, if you must type, the feeling poem which when it feels it feels indifferent. Type, if you must, the absolute no poem, the global eco-poem of and about an eco-swimmer, the hollow swimmer, the recycler of nothing, the lover of lack, who swims in reverse on the page, our fluid aquarelle, carefully unthreading any thread in order not to leave a single symbol, mark, or trace behind, the miasmic swimmer who swims invisibly, in shade, and, like the poem, duplicate, permeates from nothing else other than itself. Write about an alternative lover who, without love, if you must love, learns to tautologise itself, to duplicate.
The word (word One in this language) begins with Î†λφα in the other’s alphabet. Its prior symbol like a letter A tilted on its side, suspended in air and time, is now morphed into swimming pool, a priori. Indigo rorschach on an electronic postcard designed and sent by Adam on the occasion of my return to England. Those days I talked much about swimming as search for correlations between two parabola poles. And it’s because the swimming pool is yet another aporia. Thinking de profundis. Thinking of punctuation. Ending the sentence by drowning. Àpropos of melancholia. Or even more superfluous. Narcissistic. A universal weakness. The desire to navigate the body home through language. Pathology of the poem through pathos is what it is. The document, a liquefied polis, when I first received it, later read as an exported artwork from procreate. And millennia later I stuck the sheet on the white wall of my office in Sheffield. I also laminated this landscape. So that it could preserve its purpose once and for all without morphing into somewhere else (such as Glossop Road Baths just off West Street or The Rawson Spring in Hillsborough, these liminalities with fluid functions inhabited by one’s own fluid selves). This I shall soon send to you in another’s attachments. The glossy paper now portrays a blue canvas textured like waves and currents shaped like miniature curly tongues. Apo phainesthai ta phainomena. You could almost recognise the chequered tiles flickering at the bottom of this pool. The attachment then was entitled Escaping Time. This, perhaps, will always already be a one-way correspondence with the anonymous author, the hydrophilic friend. One in which one is at the receiving end.
[PE v; letter V:13] ‘For the poem is grotesque’
For the poem is grotesque. My awful body, once in heaven, today, on a feeling, thinking day, on a chance day patroned by mercy and coincidence, is as hideous as any body in the compendium of beasts, active, being, alive. The chance body, as if always in-between before and after it metamorphs. Flower into flesh. Hiatus into horror. Bestial into sublime. Wait. Don’t go, concierge. Don’t come too near. Commiserate the repulsive poem in the poem. The pathological inside the fit. Because looking at it from a non-poetic perspective, the dead poet writes in her notebook found in her Buda apartment post mortem, this so called thing, this phantom phenomenon, is bizarre, and even more so today. My curious critic. Cryptic scriptor. Post-scriptum collector. Let’s come a little closer to keep a distance, the posthumous poet writes. Here lies the poem, the cyber warrior, the solar swimmer, the mutilated messenger, signalling, flaunting, stammering the news in this, that and any other way she can – everything that she has seen and is capable of, telling us that she has indeed been where she has been.
For Lehóczky, language itself, the already defamiliarized second language of her poems, is the site of action and dwelling, a lived, multidimensional space. Rather than aiming to disorientate a routine and physically-situated awareness of the city, her poems enact a process of siting, an orientation from a perspective that is already unsettled since it originates in another language and another city….
The palimpsestic city [in Lehoczky's work] offers a means of exploring important relationships, not just between two different cities or different languages or different periods, but also between the obstinate specificity of particular urban locations and the nomadic character of language itself.
Zoe Skoulding, ‘Ágnes Lehóczky and the Palimpsestic City’ in Zoe Skoulding, Women’s Poetry and Urban Space: Experimental Cities, Palgrave Macmillan in 2013: http://www.palgrave.com/br/book/9780230292789
THE CENTRAL EXPERIENCE of this remarkable book is the mystery of human physical presence in earthly space, all the more mysterious for being sited in a foreign maze of house-lined streets, seedy pubs and pathetic charity shops peopled by homeless vagabonds postmen and sobbing toddlers in pushchairs. It is a mystery that can never be solved. The objects unearthed in the quest cannot define more than a glimpse of the place and its mysteries, more or less redeemed in the musical and individual analogues. It is simply incomprehensible that a viola appears in a charity shop window in Walkley, Sheffield, and it is even more incomprehensible that it is still there at night. No knowledge of how it actually got there would be anything but a false comfort. There is a self-frustration in these quests which is rather splendidly manifest in, for example, the last words of the main Sheffield sequence concerning the image of fog as something which defeats the search for significant objects and “drains the voice”— It’s just an ad hoc item from the catalogue of unplanned cosmic events, I thought. A chance word, a transparent name filled with infinite space I wanted to shout into from the top of the Hillsborough hills. (p.44) So it is not all meticulousness. The very next item after this one, the beginning of a different sequence, takes on a tone of advice, whether self-advice or not — it begins “Don’t be anxious.” The ending seems to recall the gesture just quoted — “There is some good in blinking into the last rays of winter sun. You might go so far as to call it love.” A modest version of a Wordsworthian moment crossed with the alienation of migrant labour; there is nothing else to do and no question of belonging but it could still be love.
Peter Riley, ‘Poetry from sleety Wereldesend’ in The Fortnightly Review, Sept, 2014: http://fortnightlyreview.co.uk/2014/09/wereldesend/ ; on Carillonneur (Shearsman Books, 2014)
'One of the most important, thoughtful poem sequences, by one of the most important, thoughtful poets of my generation. Writing-swimming both against, yet also necessarily alongside, tides of self-doubt, Eros and Thanatos, from a pool that is also – to borrow a term from Andrew Epstein – a transformation trope: an ‘absent pool present for now’; a ‘pond full of various magic and mirage’ … ‘long morphed into a landscape somewhere else.’ The poem (which is also love letters and a series of epitaphs) is that too. It reconfigures place as memory, chronology as feeling, physical movement as phenomenology, image as dialectic. Lehóczky’s genius is to make the ordinary appear to us always extraordinarily, and the extraordinary, ordinarily – and both very beautifully: ‘O that thin and invisible border between the beautiful and the / bizarre, the beatific and the brutal’ – as if in answer to the call of the purpose of ‘The Spiritual Work of Art’ (Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit). ‘[A]s if one’s (eternal) life were at stake’. --Emily Critchley, on Pool Epitaphs and Other Love Letters (Boiler House Press, 2017)
'This is a wonderful, extraordinary poem in so many ways, not quite like anything I know, though reminding me to go back, perhaps, to the Blake of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, in its embrace of contraries, in its repeated transformation of either/or into both/and, of polarity as requiring both poles, of binaries as always inseparably fused into generous – and generative – singularities, of affirmation as inseparable from negation and vice versa, of interiority as always ambivalently yoked to exteriority, of literalness as layered into metaphor, memory, even allegory, of I as always superimposed on I, of person and voice as moving around in the fluidity of language and social exchange. No wonder that the poem here makes such recourse to layering, folding, piling, refraining, riffing on instabilities in grammatical class (often reaching for a verb from the interior of a noun, for example), concatenating the resulting variations in a singing continuity rather than a stumbling uncertainty between them. Nothing here is ever as simple as an unambiguous noun. What on earth, in the name of currency, is a pool? Occasionally a simple, and for that reason seductive, image is glimpsed: for a moment there is the clarity of a single swimmer’s body cutting a line through water, and then that clarity is not so much lost – it never is – but disallowed the status of whole, as ungenerous within these shifting overlays. The literal is thus inseparable from metaphor, perhaps also from allegory, since all is set in motion by a cumulative aggregation – though always already in motion –, moving in and through the long poem-paragraphs, which themselves pile up in breath-defying sentences that themselves keep accumulating on the principle of echo, inclusiveness, alternation, always refusing to settle, even into a narrative possibility that at times beckons. Is this a richness, a playfulness between different potentials that surround one, that is only fully available to a true polyglot (Nabokov is explicitly there in the text, though as lepidopterist; Caroline Bergvall isn’t, but was in my mind). I do think the poem – for I think of it as single poem, with poems inside it and beside it, – is very special.'--John Hall, on Swimming Pool (Shearsman Publishing, 2017)
'This poetry carries a hand-full of soft stones that sink and surface, shiver between decomposition and preservation as she dries herself to recall movement through surfaces beneath and above them. This is a sustained interrogation of the construction of a self that is intricate; intimate as much as broad ranged; larger than the pool the poet enters; and up against melancholy as a prospectus on beauty or the unattainable. The poem compels attention to itself as it expands, alliterates, rhymes, moves off at tangent and is wonderfully obsessive. Pool is polis and micro-thought, dense and reconciled. It demands frailty and errors of perception that become portentous and then elusive in moth flickers, expansive and pulled into itself, frightened and pervasive. The book celebrates a powerful engagement.'--Allen Fisher, on Swimming Pool (Shearsman Publishing, 2017)
'Poems are intellectual explorations into language encounters that are, at their serious best, the fruit of long thinking and feeling about history, culture, identity, and the clashes and conflicts embedded in the deep mind. As a poet, Agnes Lehoczky has generated a reputation for herself as one of the best prose poets writing in England, and her status as bilingual Hungarian-English writer who chooses to write in English marks her as an extraordinary European presence in the writing field. Her prose poems are meditative, rich in matter and material, flowing, inward and yet fractured by memory, sharded with breaks in experience, Babelic fusions and confusions. Reading her work reminds me of W.S. Graham for its philosophical depth and wit, and of David Jones for the colour and multivocal layering of spacetime event. It is also genuinely psychogeographical, taking inspiration from Sebald, Sinclair and others and fashioning accretive and transgressive encounters with phenomena, and making them happen in the parallel world of the poem as language. This is seriously good work, and has attracted praise from Szirtes, Riley and Geraldine Monk, and also from Peter Robinson, from Ian Patterson: sign again that she is not only a poet’s poet, but also one who can communicate freshly and with true sympathetic imagination with her reader. The Sheffield sequence she has been writing here is so good I would suggest it is actually ground-breaking work, which will have true and genuine effects and influences once it is properly disseminated. Carillonneur is a hugely ambitious long poem project, a sequence of reflections on city living, on specifically Sheffield as a postindustrial space, as an exilic and fissured location, as a zone of vibrant and volatile observations and surmises on being in the world. It is work which takes time, inhabits city time, and is designed to last and speak to readers in the future: it is of a quality that ensures that it will.'--Adam Piette, on Carillonneur (Shearsman, 2014)
'The defining image here is the bell, sounding across the city, merging with buildings and the noises they produce; calling people to thought, to contemplate the space across which it resonates, a note which leaves and returns to itself. The key resource is syntax. Ágnes Lehóczky's sentences stage a perpetual inquiry, a grammar in which new information is always coming into view. Sometimes the information comes from the environment, sometimes from the person moving; always the language draws other voices towards it. The poems are in prose – she is, as Frank O'Hara would say, a real poet. They are a gauge of the way we think through and about place. They stumble on commitments, corners of value. They record a life lived ordinarily and with great linguistic intelligence. Most importantly, perhaps, they are in dialogue – with the words of friends and contemporaries, but also with ghosts, the city's absent inhabitants. What they present is a civic space, a setting in which people have always gone before, for the history of which only the most richly textured language can be a real reckoning. This is that kind of reckoning. The pleasure of reading Lehóczky's is sometimes like the pleasure of reading Ashbery, sometimes like the pleasure of reading Roy Fisher. Hers is a language brilliantly conscious of itself, but whose references points are real. Anybody can read this. It's a new map.'--David Herd, on Carillonneur (Shearsman, 2014):
'Lehóczky’s chosen form is the prose poem, expertly evoking the slippages between physical and metaphysical worlds. In the opening poem, cathedral becomes universe becomes city and back again, in one of a number of pieces reminiscent of Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities. The job of the rememberer , it seems, is to see the past in the present, to keep both in view simultaneously - a position nuanced, in this case, by the poet's birth and upbringing in Hungary and later move to England... By deft handling of sentence rhythms and intricate repetition of sound, Lehóczky manages to sustain the momentum in single-paragraph prose poems that last pages. Anyone who is ambivalent about prose poetry should read Rememberer, an exemplar of the form, exemplar of poetry itself.'--Carrie Etter, The Guardian (May, 2012), on Rememberer
Some further reviews in:
- Karen McCarthy Woolf, ‘Global Topographers and the Absolute Map’ (Poetry London, Autumn, 2014)
- Jane Routh, ‘Maps and History’, (Magma, Issue 60, Autumn, 2014)
- Jon Thompson ‘Metamorphic Cityscapes’ (Blackbox Manifold, Issue 14, June, 2015)
- Jess Cotton ‘Making Images Material’, (Poetry London, Autumn 2017: Issue 88)
- Emily Hasler’s review in Volume 107, No 4, Winter 2017 – The Poetry Review