Chris Agee

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Chris Agee
Born (1956-01-18) 18 January 1956 (age 61)
San Francisco, California, United States
Occupation Poet, Essayist, and Editor of Irish Pages
Website
chrisagee.net

Christopher Robert Agee (born 18 January 1956, in San Francisco) is a poet, essayist and editor living in Ireland. He holds dual American and Irish citizenship, and has spent most of his adult life in Ireland. He also spends part of each year at his house on the Dalmatian island of Korčula, near Dubrovnik, in Croatia.[1][2]

Biography[edit]

Early life[edit]

Chris Agee was born on 18 January 1956 in San Francisco and grew up in Massachusetts, New York and Rhode Island.[3] During the last three years of secondary school, he attended Phillips Academy (Andover), before spending a year of French language study at the Université d’Aix-en-Provence, in the South of France. He then attended Harvard University, where he studied with the poet and translator Robert Fitzgerald, and the Brazilian philosopher Roberto Mangabeira Unger. In June 1979, he graduated cum laude with a BA in American Literature and Language. Since 1979, just after graduation, he has lived in Ireland.[3][4]

Life in Ireland[edit]

During the summers of 1977 and 1978, Agee was based in the Wicklow Mountains and Belfast, but travelled widely throughout the island.

Agee intended to stay only a year or two in Ireland, but by the mid-eighties his residence in Belfast had become permanent. Between 1979 and 1989, he worked as a Lecturer in Adult Literacy at a further education college in the city.[4] From 1989 to 1992, he worked full-time for the Community Education Department of The Open University in Ireland; from 1988 to 2004, he also taught a number of arts and American studies courses in the Arts Faculty of The Open University, including individual tutorials, for ten years, with republican and loyalist prisoners at the Maze and Maghaberry Prisons.[5][6] From 1992 to 2007, he was employed by the University of East London (on a Senior Lecturer scale) to direct the Irish office of a British trade union education fund.[7] Since 2007, when he resigned from that post, he has worked as the full-time Editor of Irish Pages: A Journal of Contemporary Writing (based at The Linen Hall Library, Belfast) as well as in a freelance literary capacity, including as a reviewer for The Irish Times.[3][8][9]

His wife, whom he married in 1990, grew up in Armagh and studied art and design at the University of Ulster in Belfast. Their first child, Jacob Eoin, was born in 1993; their second, Miriam Aoife, in 1997. Miriam died suddenly in 2001, of complications following a volvulus of the fundus, after four days in intensive care. The poems in Agee’s third collection, Next to Nothing, were written in the aftermath of her death.[7]

Published work and literary activity[edit]

Agee wrote his first poems during his last year at Harvard. The first to be published appeared in Irish periodicals in the late 1980s.[7] He is now the author of three books of poems, In the New Hampshire Woods (The Dedalus Press, Dublin, 1992), First Light (The Dedalus Press, Dublin, 2003) and Next to Nothing (Salt Publishing, Cambridge, England, 2009).

Agee is currently finalizing a collection of non-fiction and critical essays, entitled Journey to Bosnia.[10]

Agee’s work is included in seven anthologies of Irish poetry and one of American poetry. In general, he is considered a minor American/Irish poet.

In 2001, he participated in the Struga Festival,[5][7] Eastern Europe’s most distinguished poetry festival, which that year awarded its “Golden Wreath” to Seamus Heaney.[11] In 2003, Agee was an International Writing Fellow at the William Joiner Center, University of Massachusetts, Boston.[12] In 2007 and 2009, respectively, he was a writer-in-residence at the St James Cavalier Arts Centre in Malta,[7] and at the Heinrich Boll Cottage, on Achill Island, Co Mayo. He has had many periods of residence at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre, a workplace for artists at Annaghmakerrig, Newbliss, Co Monaghan.[7]

Next to Nothing (2009)[edit]

In his one statement on the collection, 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 . . .[13]

Next to Nothing was shortlisted (from among 57 titles published in the United Kingdom in 2009) for the first Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry, funded by the Poet Laureate and organized by the Poetry Society in London. The collection was prominently reviewed in Ireland and Britain in 2009-2010, though no review has yet appeared in the United States, itself a comment on the peripherality of Agee's poetry.


Essays and criticism[edit]

Agee's forthcoming collection of prose, Journey to Bosnia, brings together essays and reviews on a variety of Irish, Balkan, literary and ecological topics written since 1986.[10] He reviews mainly poetry for The Irish Times.[14]

Two of his Balkan essays, "The Stepinac File" (2000)[15] and "A Week in Sarajevo" (1996),[16] are widely known outside Ireland. The first, which explores the collaboration of the Catholic Church with the fascist Ustashe regime in Croatia during the Second World War, has been circulated extensively on the Internet. The second, written at the end of the Bosnian war, achieved considerable civic renown when it appeared in translation in Sarajevo some months later.[7]

Editorial work[edit]

In 2002, Agee founded Irish Pages, It has been variously described as "a wonderful achievement" (Michael Longley); "an important event in the history of Northern Ireland" (Hilary Wakeman); "a major development in Irish literature" (John F. Deane); and "the most important cultural journal in Ireland at the present moment" (Jonathan Allison).[17]

Balkan connections[edit]

Chris Agee has close connections with the Balkans, Croatia and Bosnia in particular. He spends two months each year at his house in Žrnovo, on the island of Korčula,[18] in the far south of Croatia, and has visited Bosnia for substantial periods many times. His second collection, First Light, includes a suite of Balkan poems written in the mid- to late 1990s, and thus constitutes one of the very rare firsthand responses, from an English-language or Western poet, to the postwar aftermath in Bosnia and Kosovo. During the same period, he wrote occasional articles on Western policy in the Balkans for Oslobodjene, the Sarajevo daily.

Most importantly, Agee edited Scar on the Stone (1998), the first English-language anthology of Bosnian poetry published after the outbreak of the Bosnian war and the subsequent genocide and partition. It brings together fourteen of Bosnia's most distinguished poets and a selection of younger poets drawn from the country’s three main ethnic groups.

Bibliography[edit]

Poetry[edit]

Criticism[edit]

As editor[edit]

Anthologies[edit]

  • Eva Bourke and Barbara Borbala, ed. (2010). Landing Places: Immigrant Poets in Ireland. The Dedalus Press. ISBN 978-1-906614-22-5. 
  • Chris Agee, ed. (2008). The New North: Contemporary Poetry from Northern Ireland. Wake Forest University Press. ISBN 978-1-930630-35-2. 
  • Daniel Tobin, ed. (2007). The Book of Irish American Poetry: from the Eighteenth Century to the Present. University of Notre Dame Press. ISBN 978-0-268-04230-1. 
  • John Brown, ed. (2006). Magnetic North: The Emerging Poets. Lagan Press. ISBN 978-1-898701-60-6. 
  • Frank Ormsby, ed. (2006). The Blackbird’s Nest. Blackstaff Press. ISBN 978-0-85640-796-3. 
  • Pat Boran, ed. (2006). Wingspan: A Dedalus Sampler. The Dedalus Press. ISBN 1-904556-62-0. 
  • Patricia Craig, ed. (2006). The Ulster Anthology. Blackstaff Press. ISBN 978-0-85640-792-5. 
  • Adrian Rice, ed. (2002). A Conversation Piece. Ulster Museum. 
  • Frank Ormsby, ed. (2000). The Hip Flask: Short Poems from Ireland. The Blackstaff Press. ISBN 978-0-85640-681-2. 

In preparation[edit]

  • Journey to Bosnia (essays and criticism)[10]

Further reviews[edit]

It is due to the skill of the poet that one feels at one with the grief in these poems; but the theme and structure of this book, as well as the humanity within, will ensure that Next to Nothing breaks the boundaries of mere literary work. Here, Chris Agee the poet has moved beyond the realm of poetry to embrace a wider audience.[21]

Wake Forest University Press continues its impressive dedication to Irish poetry ... with The New North: Contemporary Poetry from Northern Ireland. ...[T]he poems and poets offer an insightful, lyrical look into the psyche of 21st-century Northern Ireland.[22]

Global attention to the Bosnian war has brought a number of other useful volumes into print in English. Perhaps the most important among such titles is Scar On the Stone, edited by Chris Agee, which includes an excellent and representative selection of recent Bosnian poetry, much of it directly influenced by the 1992-95 war. I would recommend the book, which includes excerpts and commentaries by Mak and by Francis R. Jones, without qualification, and will only indicate two writers I believe deserve special attention, in that they represent two sides of Sarajevo literary life.[23]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ McIntire, Dennis (2001). International Who's Who in Poetry and Poets' Encyclopaedia. Routledge. p. 6. ISBN 978-0-948875-59-5. 
  2. ^ "Chris Agee". Irish Writers Online. Archived from the original on 4 October 2009. Retrieved 28 February 2010. 
  3. ^ a b Gleason, Paul (September–October 2008). ""Anti-Dominant" Journal". Harvard Magazine. Harvard College Fund. 
  4. ^ a b "Chris Agee & Sinead Morrissey Poetry Reading". The Library of Congress. Retrieved 28 February 2010. 
  5. ^ "Chris Agee". Dedalus Press. Archived from the original on 17 May 2011. Retrieved 28 February 2010. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f g "Interview with Chris Agee on The Poetry Programme". Archived from the original on August 31, 2010. 
  7. ^ "Chris Agee". P&W Magazine. Retrieved 28 February 2010. 
  8. ^ "Chris Agee". Dublin Book Festival. Archived from the original on 7 March 2010. Retrieved 28 February 2010. 
  9. ^ a b c "Over the Edge Readings". 
  10. ^ Struga Poetry Evenings#Golden Wreath Laureates
  11. ^ "Dedalus Press - Chris Agee". Archived from the original on 17 May 2011. Retrieved 13 September 2010. 
  12. ^ "Salt Publishing". Archived from the original on 2010-09-28. 
  13. ^ "Chris Agee", The Irish Times
  14. ^ "The Stepinac File", Archipelago
  15. ^ ["A Week in Sarajevo", Habitus]
  16. ^ [1]
  17. ^ "Chris Agee reading at the White House, Limerick, Ireland". 
  18. ^ Caroline Walsh (20 March 2010). "Loose Leaves". The Irish Times. Retrieved 13 September 2010. 
  19. ^ "Shortlist for Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry". Poetry Society (UK). Retrieved 13 September 2010. 
  20. ^ Thomas McCarthy (April 11, 2009). "A father left bereft". The Irish Times. 
  21. ^ Irish America Magazine, Feb./March 2009
  22. ^ "'Under Empty Skies Falconers Weep':A Personal Survey of Modern Verse in Ex-Yugoslavia and Albania", Contemporary Poetry Review, Stephen Schwartz, July 2004

External links[edit]