Chris Makris and Erin Fornoff reviewed by Joe Horgan

architecture of chance

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.

folk heroes

Erin Fornoff’s so aesthetically pleasing pamphlet made me think that maybe most poetry should be presented in this way. If all poetry came in short, gorgeously presented collections of seven poems we might all actually read a bit more poetry. My only previous acquaintance with Fornoff’s work came with her appearance in the People’s Poetry list last year and quite clearly she is a powerful performer of her work and this how she has built a reputation. Now I don’t get out much and if I do have an evening to spare I must confess that I’m as drawn to an evening of ‘small talk about bullshit’, as Fornoff puts it, as I am anything else so I don’t really get to a lot of spoken word nights. So I’m not really aware if the debate about spoken word and written word is a live one and I’m not sure if, in an age of naturally occurring crossovers, anyone thinks any art form exists in splendid isolation. It can do, of course, but hybridity is as likely to occur naturally as be sought out. That said Erin Fornoff’s poetry works so completely on the page that I don’t feel diminished by being her reader instead of her listener and anyway the work is so strong that her voice echoes through the lines.

This is poetry of powerful intimacy with a robustness that underlines the strength of her work. Hymn To The Reckless is a searing, life-affirming poem that in its heart rending honesty made me hope that we could all be young always; Throw it here./ We’ll toss it back and forth/ until it’s ashes. My Father, The Skydiver brought a tear to this tired man’s eyes and I couldn’t decide if What I know is a face you thought you’d lost will always be/ beautiful was the best line or if the Rilke-like three lines of Try and recall the last time/ you saw something/ for the very first time was the exhortation I should attempt to start each day with.

If Irish poetry is producing poetry like this, from whatever source and whatever tradition, then things aren’t too bad at all. If you’ve heard her you’ll want this collection and if you haven’t you’ll want it too. I’m also going to add that as an Irishman from outside of the island itself I find these voices, Makris and Fornoff, originating elsewhere but distilled here, to be most cheering. In literature and society we continue to expand and extend what being Irish actually means and we are all the better for that.

Joe Horgan is a contributing editor at The Bogmans Cannon