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Monday, March 21, 2016

National Poetry Month 2016 Challenge Facebook Group Workshop

National Poetry Month is upon us. This year, to mark it, I am hosting a workshop in the form of a closed Facebook Group.

 The workshop is centered around a writing challenge. The challenge is to write one poem a day throughout April, so that when the month wraps up each participant has 30 poems. If, for any reason, a participant misses a day, then it can simply be made up on another day, so long as the end total is 30. Collaborations are also welcome, if any wish to do so. Length, form, or genre don't matter. The only criteria is that each poem must be a "found" poem with a nonpoetic text as its source. Sharing results is optional.

Although the Group is closed, if any like to join they can message me as the administrator at my Facebook Page "Sabne Raznik".

Join the National Poetry Month 2016 Challenge Facebook Group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/1028734460530372/.

Happy National Poetry Month!

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Review: "The Architecture of Chance" by Christodoulos Makris


Christodoulos Makris, The Architecture of Chance, (Wurm Press, 2015) 108 pages, poetry, $19.00 U.S.

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.

You can buy it at Amazon.

The Work of Christodoulos Makris

The following was originally published on Yahoo Voices on July 18, 2012.

Christodoulos Makris is quite the rising star in poetry. He has written three collections. The first one is a low-fi publication by Wurm Press in 2009 titled Round The Clock. It is now sold out. The second is a handsome little paperback titled Spitting Out The Mother Tongue from Wurm Press in 2011. The third is a limited edition, numbered art book of 100 copies total and is titled Muses Walk.  Makris was chosen to represent Cyprus in the gargantuan "Poetry Parnassus" festival which was organised in London to correspond with the 2012 Olympics. He lives in Ireland and blogs at http://yesbutisitpoetry.blogspot.com/. This is a review of Makris' three books.

Round The Clock is eclectic and doesn't really follow a theme. Standout poems are "The Impressionists", "Competitor Vassilaras", "Serving And F---ing" (censoring that word is my doing), and "Ginsberg in Fingal". "The Impressionists" is a timely statement on entertainment today and its effect on the artist (I use "artist" here broadly, to include all the arts). Impressionist painters are depicted as being on a reality show competition where the viewers vote for the one they like until all but one of them are dead. It forces meditation on just what art and artists are subjected to in the modern environment. The end result does and should make the reader uncomfortable. "Competitor Vassilaras" reads like a childhood memory of the poet's father and documents a shocking moment when the theatricality of wrestling was invaded by the all-too-real. "Serving And F---ing" is a statement on immigration and prejudice, exile and loneliness. "Ginsberg in Fingal" reflects an ambiguous feeling toward Ireland and perhaps offers a view of it that is clearer than those native to that country can see for themselves. In the U.S., this kind of poem from an immigrant is cliche, but in Ireland it must have been a small revelation. What Ginsberg would think about his increasing cameos in 21st century poems is anyone's guess.

Spitting Out The Mother Tongue is better organised. As the title suggests, it revolves around the experience of a Cypriot immigrant in Western Europe. It is much harder to pick out particular poems in this volume because the poems support each other like paragraphs in a novel. Makris' language is almost unpoetic. There is no attempt at music here and rhythm, while present, does not immediately soothe the ear. The wording is plain and simple, as if the reader was listening to some average Joe on the street describing his surroundings. Sometimes it is that very quality which makes it powerful. Many of the poems focus on adolescence and young adulthood. There are moments when the reader gets the feeling that it's all been said before. But then a phrase or image will smack the reader back into poetic reverie. The best poems in Spitting Out The Mother Tongue are "Muses Walk" and "Nicosia Journal".

Muses Walk the book (versus the poem) is extraordinary. It represents - it is - Makris' best work to date. As part of the "Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts in Dublin" initiative, Makris took "Muses Walk" the poem (which is an attempt to snapshot, so to speak, a particular street in Nicosia) and dissected it to create this little art book. He took each line of the original poem and used it for the title of a poem based on that line until he had done so with every line of "Muses Walk". The result is more than a snapshot of a street. Now it is a full album representing the people of that street, their lives, and their cultures. This little book is a true treasure. With it, one begins to see that Makris is an important poet, not just for sleepy Ireland, but perhaps for the world.

You are not here
and I cup my hands
to gather snowflakes.
I preserve them
for as long as I can;
then blow them back
into the infant summer.

- from "Nicosia Journal".


Review: "In the Language of Miracles" by Rajia Hassib



Rajia Hassib, In the Language of Miracles, (Viking, 2015), 288 pages, fiction, $19.60 U.S.

Most of the reviews for this book talk about how this very domestic story mirrors the Muslim experience in America since 9/11. No doubt it does. But being someone who has experienced personal and family trauma, I read it less as a socio-political parable and more as the domestic microcosm of one family's troubles that it ultimately is.

The story begins one year after the family's eldest son kills his ex-girlfriend and then commits suicide. The pain is potent and real throughout this novel. Each character is struggling to cope with that horrific event and the ostracism that resulted from it in a different way according to each personality. The father throws himself into work, and being overly concerned with reputation, into somehow convincing the community to accept them again. The mother spends her days in the attic where she can still smell her lost son. The grandmother flies in from Egypt and takes over care of the household and the remaining children, trying desperately to protect them with superstitious rituals and other cultural customs.The daughter spends most of her time at another's house and immerses herself in her faith. The surviving son, who is the focus of the novel, attempts to erase his identity as much as possible and experiences a crisis of faith.

The most memorable chapter describes the mother's effort to get rid of her dead son's effects in the attic. It so perfectly parallels the actual experience of losing a child that the emotion smothered me, as it should. The climax of the story - at a memorial service held for the ex-girlfriend by her family - is chaotic and comical after all the weight of grief in the rest of the novel. Personally, the son's involvement in the scene read as out of place even though it was supposed to be his moment of clarity at last. I couldn't help but think that, instead of saving his family from embarrassment, he added to it. But perhaps that is secondary to his religious epiphany.

This book is a poignant portrait of tragedy and the fallout it leaves behind. The book goes through overwhelming emotional moments and moments of numbness. In the end, just as each family member found his/her own way through the initial shock and pain, they each find their own way to carry on and move forward into a future. It's true that - in an emotional way - one can never go back  home. Things shattered cannot be whole as they once were. But one can make a new home that is just as dear as the original one, albeit different. And the shattered thing can be glued together again. So what if the cracks show? It can still be useful, beautiful, and valued. That is what this family eventually realises.

"In the Language of Miracles" is one of the best novels I've read in the last five years.

You can buy it at Amazon.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

"Aura" Receives Award


"Aura" has won a Special Recognition Award in the Photography and Digital Art category of the 2016 Abstracts Art Exhibition on Light Space and Time Online Gallery. The decision was announced on March 1, 2016. See it here! Thank you, Light Space and Time!