Published by Wurm Press, February 2015
"Christodoulos Makris’ second full collection, blends painstaking poetic craft with the accidental hazards of found text and overheard sample. As challenging as it is accessible, these poems comment wittily yet unsparingly on the cultural, economic and political textures of twenty-first century life."
"A forerunner, in Irish poetry and Irish poetry publishing." - Harry Clifton, The Irish Times
what they said about The Architecture of Chance
a colourful drop on the grey sea of contemporary Irish poetry awash with workshopese.
Maurice Scully, launch speech,
– Christodoulos Makris (1)
Contemplation is the utterly impersonal awareness of the essence of the thing observed.
– Christmas Humphreys (2)
Chance orders faces like someone
arranging a hasty bouquet...
– Christodoulos Makris (3)
The Architecture of Chance opens with a quote from Siegfried Kracauer, which elucidates the book's recurring themes. The reader is immediately in discovery mode. The matter of chance in urban life is one of the salient streams, if not in architectural terms, certainly in terms of culture and communication.
In Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities, Marco Polo says that cities in themselves have no power for him, only in the stories constructed about them. Christodoulos Makris is less inclined to give us stories than to offer evidence without conclusion or the construction of a meaningful plot. Anaïs Nin, who wrote many descriptions of cityscapes, said: 'I never described a city for its own sake but immediately had to find what its spiritual qualities were.' (4)
There's nothing spiritual in this book, I am inclined to say, but is that really so? If 'spirit' means, essentially, 'breath-in-itself', well yes, that's certainly here, in pure form, a distinguishable, immanent, coherent breath. ('Scales' taking us from A to Z in a verbal seesaw). If 'spirit' means what is not the body, I don't think that's here at all. The body is all there is, without attempt to impose a philosophy. If there's any philosophy, it's probably this:
Language tells all.
It's as close to a god as we'll ever get. (5)
These lines link surprisingly with Clive James's view as quoted in a Sunday Times interview—as if both arise from the same question and only diverge some distance along the path. God as possible organising principle:
[Poetry's] true purpose... is to reveal the divine nature of the language in which it is written. Its mere existence proves that there can be patterns in the chaos. (6)
Whatever about subjective concepts, attention is necessarily selective, and there is a distinct political focus on the uses and abuse of power, although it's conveyed by means of reported observation. There's either no subjective voice or an ambivalent one. There's plenty of encryption. I'm interested to find myself relaxed in this environment, I who love direct revelations. I think it's because I know I'm in the presence of a mathematician and chess player, and even though I'm not good at puzzles, I enjoy the element of play, especially as I can see that the games are well-constructed and any effort will not be fruitless. My favourite is 'Why I Live in Egypt', which is a series of reinterpretations of an original paragraph found in The Irish Times. The original words and phrases are re-written according to possible definitions and alternative meanings, until the paragraph takes on quite a different complexion. It's as if the text were being run through a paranoid decoding programme.
Is the mind not offensive precisely because it symbolizes the refusal of this necessary insanity, keeping one's head while the others are losing their breath?
– Alain de Botton (7)
The most destructive eruptions of the past half millennium were fuelled not by resources but by ideologies....
– Stephen Pinker (9)
The most that can be said of significance is that it characterizes one regime, which is not even the most interesting or modern or contemporary one, but is perhaps only more pernicious, cancerous and despotic than the others, and more steeped in illusion than they.
– Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari (10)
The Architecture of Chance is a cultural panorama. References are made to be pursued. Poetry should inform. There was a time when poetry was the main receptacle of historical knowledge. Its role now is generally more interpretative, but in Makris territory there's a trove of implicit suggestions: try this film, look at this painter. There's no anxiety of influence here, no mysterious lone, tortured writer. In the best spirit of our collaborative age, other voices are acknowledged in the genesis and structure of the work. To quote another reflection on love:
To have dismantled one's self in order finally to be alone and meet the true double at the other end of the line. A clandestine passenger on a motionless voyage.
– Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari (11)
I told her then, of my reading the landscape the way I read the sky when I was a child. Stuck with logos from the start, that was me. The world as untranslatable language.
– Daniel Stern (12)
(1) 'Safe as Houses, 3', The Architecture of Chance, Dublin: Wurm Press, 2015
(2) Zen, A Way of Life, Teach Yourself Books, 1992
(3) 'The Group', after Rilke, opus cit.
(4) from 'Out of the Labyrinth: An interview', East West Journal, 1974. Re-printed in In Favour of the Sensitive Man, London: W. H. Allen & Co. Plc, 1989, p. 77
(5) 'Safe as Houses, 1: Language', opus cit.
(6) Sunday Times: News Review, 26th April 2015, p. 4
(7) Essays in Love, London: Picador, 1994, p. 51
(8) Alain de Botton: opus ibid., p. 11
(9) The Better Angels of Our Nature, London: Allen Lane, 2011, p. 814
(10) One Thousand Plateaus, London: Continuum, 2012, p. 76
(11) opus ibid.
(12) The Suicide Academy, quoted in Anaïs Nin, 'Review of The Suicide Academy, by Daniel Stern', in The Village Voice, 10 October 1968. Re-printed in In Favour of the Sensitive Man, p.88
There is a term, apparently, that architects and city planners use for those routes through an urban environment that people make irrespective of the routes offered them. You know, the well-trodden path across the grass outside the high-rise flats, the worn way across the green of the housing estate. Back in the office they call them desire paths, showing that poetry can break out anywhere. In this collection that is exactly what Christodoulos Makris has done. He has gone in to the city and carved out a series of desire paths that make this idiosyncratic collection a hugely refreshing work. Wonderfully breaking free of the Irish tradition, Makris echoes the great Maurice Scully and like Maurice Scully offers a poetry that offers comfort but does not makes us comfortable. Too much Irish poetry does that. Makes us comfortable like a big smothering blanket. Makris instead treats the reader with the intelligence they deserve and as he pins together the flotsam and jetsam of modern, urban life he made me feel like I was walking through the city with a guide who was nipping down backstreets I hadn’t noticed and cracking jokes as we went. ‘’d rather staple my nipples to an electricity pole/ and hang upside down all day than avoid reading all the tweets and/ Facebook posts. Can everyone who is unemployed or retired stay/ out of city centres?, he is ranting at one stage, followed shortly afterwards by a poem called Heaney after Rauschenberg that somehow, and I’m still not sure how, really echoes Heaney’s world.
Whether the work is modernist, post-modernist, post-post-modernist, well, I’ll leave that debate to someone else as I’m yawning at the thought of it but I don’t want to give the impression that all of Makris’ work is a swirl of kaleidoscopic experimentation, though some of it gloriously is, for he also throws in snatches and examples of found conversation or, slightly skewed perhaps, samples of personal correspondence. Ship of Fools: The Luck of the Irish, for example, is a poem/letter that is as succinct a summing up of the state we’re in as you could wish for. He also conjures up a few throwaway phrases that though a little arch and knowing I still see as a riposte to the many literary careerists and their deadening grip. A sober poet is a liability, undesirable/ because he doesn’t stir up a fuss, for instance, manages to skewer everybody and someday I’ll write that thesis/ on how we’re happy to have stopped experiencing things as long/ as we’re able to record, document and hence/ prove we’ve experienced them says in a few lines what it might take another writer an actual thesis to say.
Yet, overall Makris is sticking to those desire paths, you might think you see the way ahead but this poet is liable to head off in unseen direction when you least expect. I also want to underline how funny this collection is. Makris often seems to have a smile hovering around his lips; no one is going to call a poem Daddy, Why did you Call me a Bastard if they didn’t realise that laughter is one of the best forms of resistance we have. Alongside tender pieces like Two Nudes and com/pass/ion Makris is clearly a poet of some range. Overall his work is one of the most interesting Irish collections I have come across in a long time and I would encourage anyone to take a walk along these singular desire paths.
Joe Horgan, The Bogman's Cannon
The Architecture of Chance, the second collection from Christodolous Makris, is a book concerned with its own methods of composition and, in turn, the relationship between its methods and the wider world of 'poetry'. Its compositional methods are wide-ranging: among them are poems written with Oulipo-esque formal constraints, collage poems from found / appropriated text, emails presented as poems and a Twitter data widget poem. This list is not exhaustive and there are also many narrative poems, poems I hesitate to call traditional. This focus on composition moves towards explaining the book's title, its paradoxical concern with orchestrating multiple possibilities. In the fourth issue of Poetry Ireland's 'literary pamphlet', Trumpet, Christodolous Makris contributed an article on 'ways of writing' which includes this:
writing that relies on tried and tested methods of composition and on the perpetuated myth of the sole inspired genius is insufficient and increasingly irrelevant in our era of multiple cross-culture, cross-border and cross-language connections.
The first poem in the book, 'Scales', is an abecedary that works its way up the alphabet and back down again three times. This method of arrangement produces quirky collisions: 'Randy sailors turn uninitiated vicars, whip xenophobes, yodel zanily.' It's a surface humour, but it's endearing: 'Janitors investigate honorary guests. Females elope, defying common betrothal agendas.' It's not chance, however, that dictates how many of the book's non-formal themes are presented in this poem. There are 'Xenophobes' and 'moustachioed nationalists'. There are ironic imperatives to 'Assist burly constables' and to 'Read speeches totally undermining visiting workers'. If this poem has a point, it's to bring some attention to the ills of 'desperate capitalists'. Life in late-capitalist society is interrogated throughout the book and Makris hints that the 'poetic voice' is an affectation for self-serving purposes in 'Sincerely':
I have years of experience at home and abroad.
I'm looking for a job in your office / factory / shop
I'm a good listener, well-educated,
I relish working in teams,
and I wish to build on my language and communication skills.
Of the book's many collage poems, 'Metro Herald's Advertorial Wind Bags Let Loose, 28-31 May & 4-7 June 2013' is the least successful. This commissioned work responds to the 'Aeolus' episode in Ulysses and reworks 'Letters to the Editor' and adverts in the aforementioned newspaper. The half-nonsense created when Makris grafts together the letters and ad copy is wry and unsettling: 'Summer has literally sprung upon us. Irish owned and operated, it now ranks as the most convoluted system in the EU.' The poem fails not because of its text, but the title. An opposition to the 'perpetuated myth of the sole inspired genius' is undermined by naming the letter and ad writers as 'wind bags' and the implication that the poet is above these unnamed others; the reader is expected to buy into this. The title preaches to the choir, suffocating the interesting textual uncertainties of the collage.
The opposite is true of the book's most successful use of pre-existing text, 'XXXXX', which quotes correspondence from an Irish poetry editor. The letter or email is reproduced in its entirety with three elements redacted: the name of the publishing house, the location of the previous conversation, and the editor's name. The correspondence details how the editor has not started to read a submission by Makris and the possible 'problem' of nationality (only work by 'Irish authors' is considered). Curiosity drives the reader to wonder who the unnamed editor might be. In the Trumpet article mentioned earlier, Makris writes that:
although the poetry world is small, especially in Ireland, divisions between those working in different modes tend to result in even smaller factions. The lines become vividly drawn, and at times lead to bemusing spats and feuds. Labelling poetry in nationality or other identity terms functions as an extension of this tendency to separate.
'XXXXX' enacts the objectionable categorisation of poetry by nationality in the poem's clean, complete concept.
The Architecture of Chance is a dense book and there is much more to be found and enjoyed in it than space here allows. It will be of interest to anyone who wants to read poetry that questions its own methods. It is a worthwhile, idiosyncratic addition to the landscape of poetry published in Ireland.
Stephen Connolly, The Stinging Fly
issue 32 volume two, winter 2015-16
issue 32 volume two, winter 2015-16
This is the future of a poetry which reflects our world of language without dispensing with the expressionistic skill of interpreting that language. Found text lies with lyrical poetry, a thorough achievement to balance them to such effect.
SJ Fowler, Top Reads of 2015, 3:AM Magazine
Chris Makris is a long time living in Ireland he is a librarian out in Fingal County Council. Chris is not a pastoral poet or a rural poet, he is very much a poet of the city, he's not a poet of the lyric either, he uses a lot of found material, and again I found it a very refreshing use of material found on the internet, of signage found around the city and things like that, to shape into poems which make us wonder about: is it us that speak words, or is it words that speak us? if you like, ok so very very playful, very very interesting, and again, an accessible collection.
Dave Lordan, Favourite poetry books of the year, Arena (RTÉ Radio 1)
Christodoulos Makris is a Greek Cypriot poet who lives in the Dublin area and writes in English. He’s also a bit of a poetry entrepreneur, organising reading events in Fingal, where he works for the library service, and editing magazines and anthologies. On the basis of his previous book, Spitting Out the Mother Tongue, he is also one of the most interesting of the younger Irish poets of the moment.
His latest collection, The Architecture of Chance, moves on from that earlier work, especially with the growing use of explicit procedural approaches in the making of many of the poems included. This is both an interesting and a somewhat perilous development, given the temptation to become over-enamoured with the procedure at the expense of the poetry. Nevertheless, it is gratifying to see younger poets in Ireland who are willing to take the risk of experimentation in this area.
The results of Makris’ procedural ventures are, it must be said, somewhat uneven. ‘Heaney after Rauschenberg’, for example, which consists of all the four-letter words in Death of a Naturalist, in the order they appear there, starts out as an interesting critique of Heaney’s aesthetic. Unfortunately, there are too many four-letter words in the book to sustain interest, and by the end of the second densely-packed page this reader began to hope for a little more flexibility with the method.
Another example is ‘From Something to Nothing’, which consists of text from the IMF’s website run through a chain of languages in Google translate. The morphing of ‘and reduce poverty around the world’ into ‘facilitate…poverty in the world’ is all too convenient. If the opposite result had been the outcome of the process, you can’t but feel that the poem would never have seen the light of day.
Much more satisfying is ‘16 X 16’, a sequence of sixteen sixteen-word sentences, in which the second word of sentence one becomes the first of sentence two, and so on. The flexibility in punctuation and word order through the sequence allows for an interesting interaction between procedure and poet, one feeding off the other. Procedural poetry needs to be poetry, first and foremost. As with any other kind of poetry, the purpose is to transmute the language into something greater than the sum of its parts. This happens here in a way that simply doesn’t occur in some of the other process pieces in the book.
The real strength of this collection lies in Makris’ apparently non-procedural handling of fractured lyric, a mode that he inhabits more fully. Take, for instance, the first of his ‘Four Manifestoes’:
A red rose
sends fragrance to rise
from my immaculate shirt.
Sunshine, delectable fare, exotic teas,
refine my mind.
The clusters of alliteration and the strong, single syllable and trochaic/amphibrach masculine line endings combine to create a sense of immediacy that both cuts across and underpins the syntactic sense of the stanza while the assonances and near rhymes (fine/my/sunshine/refine) that ripple through the lines display a finely-tuned poet’s ear.
Billy Mills, 'Poets Abroad'
Christodoulos Makris has established himself as one of the most important experimental poets working in Ireland today. The Architecture of Chance is his latest offering.
This is an exciting collection. Makris is fearless in his experimentation and is pushing poetry into whole new forms and realms of being. Most notable in this regard is "Chances Are", which he calls a mass collaboration poem. It appears in the collection as its HTML code. This poem can be found in application at 3am Magazine. It is a poem composed of every tweet that uses the word "chance" and updates in real time. Another boundary exploder is "From Something to Nothing" in which he took an informational text on the International Monetary Fund website and cycled it through several languages back and forth on Google Translate and turned the results into a poem that reveals much about the dynamics of language in the age of the internet. Given that Makris hails from Cyprus and has spent time in the United Kingdom while being based in Ireland, this experiment could be read as a commentary on the migrant experience.
Many of these poems are also political in nature. In "16 X 16" he writes: "I would have been a completely different person without the politics and a completely different writer." This is evident in poems like "Metro Herald's Advertorial Windbags Let Loose, 28-31 May & 4-7 June 2013"(which, as the title suggests, is a composition of adverts and editorials from Dublin's Metro Herald newspaper), "Civilisation's Golden Dawn: A Slideshow"(which contains pieces of speeches made by members of Greece's Golden Dawn party, whom Makris describes as neo-fascist), and "Public Announcement" (composed from the signs hanging in the Skerries public library on a certain day).
Others are slightly more domestic. Some are composed from emails or tweets sent back and forth in collaboration. One is composed from bits of conversations overheard around Dublin on a particular day. My personal favourite is "Heaney after Rauschenberg", which takes all the four letter words from Seamus Heaney's first collection Death of a Naturalist and places them in order of appearance. While soothingly familiar in vocabulary, it decenters Heaney's careful poetics almost completely, as if Heaney fell into a black hole when he died and this is all that is left of him in the universe. In that sense, it serves as an eerie, aching tribute of sorts - even as it seeks to shatter the comfortable traditionalism of Heaney's legacy. Here is a brief excerpt:
"sick home hard blow baby pram when came hand tell they were away held hand hers with next went into room time left four foot four foot year
grey only from cows into like away iron gate into bank with from snug rise dead eyes used soon this they cock from left hand came came down this sake spat take your time more hole tree wild more said into mare hill back like that were that time ones that back when
dark fill dead cold like they line from some keep full tall soon back fish load from surf bend turf fear make they like clay seed shot seem they show good from bark feel roots pits live live wild land root died when lain days long clay with eyes died hard bird huts guts from like were with hope like land pits into sore stop they flop down take fill then cold
west mayo crew they from when with eyes like bone skin rose fell like they kept with beef men's then poor make food they like dogs that been hard when they with they were hope less next like dark once port ship free tart from good swim sink with zeal were
from that held arms came with have them word dead till"
This is definitely a book which requires the reader to "do the work" (Anna Strong), but the rewards are substantial. The break with Romanticism and traditional verse that began with the Modernist movement at the turn of the 20th century is spinning into free fall out of control as we become firmly entrenched in the 21st (much like society in general) and, like other experimental writers like him, Makris is making sure this is well represented in today's poetry. Only, he may be doing it better than most.
Sabne Raznik, 'Review: "The Architecture of Chance" by Christodoulos Makris'
Where [Trevor] Joyce's primary formal restriction is his use of iambic tetrameter, Christodoulos Makris, in his second collection, The Architecture of Chance, employs all manner of controlling devices. In this sense, he is truly 'experimental', following one exigency or the other where it might lead, in a manner similar perhaps to Dada, Oulipo or the more recent Flarf poets. Some might assert that such practices are rarefied or merely academic exercises, but Makris' work is deeply engaged with the world, at times outright political. Two poems in particular deal with xenophobia. 'xxxxx' is a found poem, in the form of a letter from a publisher stating that 'we can only (at this time at least) consider work by Irish authors' and asking Makris to 'clarify/confirm your nationality'. On the facing page is 'Territorial', which depicts the immigrant condition thusly:
with no authorised
entry code or a healthcare
plan, constantly dodging
Makris' use of enjambment here further suggests a sense of disjointedness or alienation. Elsewhere in the collection, 'From Something to Nothing' makes an ironic comment on the International Monetary Fund and economic exploitation by taking the IMF's 'About' statement on its website and running it through eight different languages on GoogleTranslate, four times apiece. The ultimate result in English is that the phrase 'promote high employment and sustainable economic growth, and reduce poverty around the world' has turned into 'ensure ... sustainable economic growth and poverty in the world', highlighting what some see as the IMF's true function.
Continuing this wry socioeconomic critique, 'Prime Time' is (according to the author's notes that appear at the back of the book) 'a live transcription of all advertising broadcast on Ireland's state TV channel RTÉ1' during a five-hour stretch in 2014. The effect is something like a written version of action-painting, as the poet attempts to capture in words the gist of every advert that flashes across his screen: 'now you can experience the extraordinary from faster phone incredible for over six more can you afford free the inspiration irelands revolution gathered ...', etc. The lack of punctuation and logical syntax in this piece mimics the dizzying barrage of media marketing we are subject to. At times, however, Makris actually approaches the lyric mode, as in 'Two Nudes' ('She sleeps. / She is ethereal, escapes / from photographs / in filmy layers. A wisp / swathed in snow'), and in such a varied collection as The Architecture of Chance, there is likely something for everyone. The risk is that, in jumping from a poem made of HTML code to a cut-up of signage displayed in the Skerries public library, from a treatment of the comments section of the Dublin Metro Herald to a text composed of snippets of overheard conversation, that things simply will not cohere and that the experiment will be a failure. In fact, this turns out not to be the case, and Makris' book manages to be continually engaging, often surprising, and frequently funny.
Michael S. Begnal, 'Searching The Ruins' Trumpet
Issue 5, Spring 2016
Issue 5, Spring 2016
Experimental poetry at its most playful.
Michael Naghten Shanks
“People imagine poets are perpetually inspired.
This is not true.”
This perfectly captures the foundational ideas on which Christodoulos Makris’ second collection, The Architecture of Chance, is built. Described by Rick O’Shea as “one of Ireland’s leading contemporary explorers of experimental poetics”, Makris’ collection examines the nature of chance encounters in contemporary society, and how a poet like himself can depict these experiences. Taking snippets of overheard conversation, or stumbling upon other artists’ works and reimagining them in his own form of contemporary poetry, or by taking different forms of modern day media to highlight political and economic issues Makris creates this unique collection.
Akin to an elaborate connect-the-dots, every few poems contain a passageway into obscure areas of other art forms. Take “A 21st Century Portrait”, which appears to have a sub-heading “Douglas Gordon & Philippe Parreno”. Makris wrote this poem as a reaction to another art form, specifically Gordon and Parreno’s video art “Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait” of a 90-minute football match, which focused on only one player, Zinédine Zidane:
A mercenary, frame by frame
he edges away from our sympathy
towards a self-generated cauldron.
Makris offers a unique take on the piece by using his own art to comment. His poem “From Something to Nothing” with its subheading “Francis Alÿs” follows in the same style. Research into obscure artists on the Internet shows that Alÿs’ poetry often concerns itself with political conflicts. In Makris’ poem he takes the International Monetary Fund’s “about” section directly from their website, runs it through Google translate into eight different languages, and repeats this four times, each translation becoming slightly different from the last. It is simple yet poetic procedure, with the repetitive nature of the diction used fulfilling the phrase “From Something to Nothing”.
What does Makris have in common with these artists? They all challenge the preconceived structures of their own respective arts. Combining a style of free verse and modern subject matter, Makris’ work is the epitome of the contemporary poet’s working breadth and depth. “16 x 16” begins with the phrase “I would have been a completely different person without the politics and a completely different writer” then interchanges these words to create a new sentence. The emboldened word at the beginning of each new phrase, if read vertically, actually reads as an accrostice of the original phrase. These sentences, formed by a chance grouping of words, show how Makris’ ingenuity lies within his experimentation with the architecture of poetry. “Dissolution” is another strong example of this style:
s t r e t c h e s andcontracts
Typography mimicking definition is a contemporary construct, and one which Makris employs expertly throughout his work.
Makris also challenges the traditional poetic form as a necessity when considering modern times. Referencing a wide range of media platforms, the poet uses these as a means to demonstrate current political issues and how people nowadays discuss them. A one-sided conversation in “Collected Emails” shows the developing issue of forced migration from Ireland due to redundancy, portrayed in the format of e-mail replies to an unknown correspondent. In “public-private” Makris creates poetry from his Twitter conversations:
@wilkesjames Forgotten something? Clean up / keep up the boycott
don’t be bullied / authorised vehicles only / commuter lifestyle
This use of social media again shows Makris’ ability to find poetry in the modern everyday, whilst also discussing serious political matters at its core.
The Architecture of Chance experiments with a wide array of techniques, which combined together create an excellent contemporary poetry collection.
Stephanie Koetsier, Dundee University Review of the Arts