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POETRY BOOK II:

DAIMONIA

POEMS, 1997-2001

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Poetry Book: Daimonia. Poems 1997-2001

Allahabad: Cyberwit. 2019. 312 pages




Daimonia. Poems 1997-2011





This volume of poetry follows a clear line of thought which describes the shattering of a solid belief system, and attempts to rebuild and reshape it. In its five sections, it moves through the stages of

  1. Certainty,

  2. Introspection,

  3. Trauma,

  4. Questioning, and

  5. Redefinition.

This book thus takes a more specialized approach than the previous one, Life as We Know It (Cyberwit, 2019), which meant to showcase a wider topical reach. Furthermore, the current volume contains five longer poems called "syllogies" - as a written word analogue to a symphony. I will address several relevant themes and key poems in the following.

The main theme is, of course, faith - faith not just in religion, but authorities, truth, states, everything. This could be called the "Sturm und Drang" ("Storm and Stress") phase of my poetry that breaks with rhyme and traditional forms, but codifies new ones. There is use of stream of consciousness, postmodern word plays, and a cacophony of languages. The use of old languages like Ancient Greek and Latin is a play on both the breakup of language, but also on the theme of authority - as the former imperial languages of Rome, they still hold some importance in Western culture. My use of these languages fulfills two purposes: firstly, to pay homage to the old ideas, which are expressed in the respective languages, but secondly, to invoke them in a ritualistic fashion almost like magic, just as the "Requiem" poem quotes directly the parts of the Latin mass which form the basis of its meditations.

A second theme is dreams or dreaming, which is related to glimmers of hope in the chaos, to hoping for a better world, or even trying to find a way out, but also, in a more nightmarish fashion, almost yielding to the notion that hope might very well be lost, and dreams might constitute the last refuge for the lyrical I.

Part One, Certainty, depicts faith with clarity, sincerity, and matter of fact; not with fervor, but the stability and calmness that unshaken belief can bring.

"DREAMS DEEP DOWN" is part of a series of nine poems (my Ennealogy) that is formally very coherent, and thematically prefigures some of ensuing themes in this book.

"REQUIEM" of course stands for alignment with Catholicism, but also for a serious reflection on mortality, on guilt, sin, inner demons, and the role of religious hope. We'll return to the topic of demons later. The section ends with a deeply sarcastic (or not?) depiction of faith-based utopia in "THE DREAM."

Part Two, Introspection, begins to question reality, and to focus eventually on the absurdity and overwhelming nature of life in the face of the sublime - which can be a reflection of G-d, the divine, or simply a nature that is bigger than us. Such a realization has the potential to break us, and to shift our understanding of everything.

We open with an exercise in ancient script by illustrating the "BOUSTROPHÊDON" approach to writing - where at the end of the line, on the right of the page, the next line also begins on the right, facing left, with letters turned the other way, writing just like an ox (bous) would plow a field by making a turn (strophê) and changing direction. The theme of the poem is turning and the sense of some change.

What follows is my largest poem to the date of its finishing (with about 10000 words) - now, 2019, only my sixth largest. I will spend some time introducing the formal structure here, as it will be helpful for understanding the text and the motivation behind it. (see also: Building the Climax)

"KΛIMAΞ / CLIMAX" means ladder, but of course also climax. Size for its own sake does rarely matter, if at all. Yet sometimes, you need size, you need weight, you need impact - sometimes, you need to unleash it all with utter might and force, laying out a tapestry of thoughts and forms overshadowing all previous things, and all what had been done till this point will look pale and shallow and small in the grasp of this force majeure.

There are two different thoughts behind the making of "Klimax". The first is delivering something like a climax indeed; building the mountain top towards which all other things are oriented. The second premise is thematical, and it is expressed in the subtitle of the poem: De Sublimitate - On the Sublime. My aim was to create something to reflect the madness, the insanity, the utter might which such a topic would have to conjure up.

The result is frightening indeed: more than 10'000 words, forced into an artificial and oddly balanced five-part super-structure, mixing various styles and drawing from various story threads I had come up till then. It is situated within my third phase of poems under the theme of "Chaos kai Nomos - Chaos and Order", and plays on both these concepts.

To achieve such size, it is necessary to provide a poem with a structure able to carry such weight. Size for its own sake is not a worthwhile argument, but for "Klimax", size meant something very specific:

  • The size reflects the topic of sublimity. Only within a certain size can a specific topic of a certain complexity be treated adequately.

  • Size allows for more freedom, ideas need not be compressed too much, I can take my time in developing a thought pattern.

  • In relation to this, there is more room for experimentation on the formal level. The larger the body of text, the more representative can be the result for a specific style; it can also carry a certain idea of aesthetics.

  • A larger text can be more independent from the rest, it develops a gravity of its own.

  • The larger form fosters a more open, direct style, moving away (and setting itself apart) from the riddled-language fortune-cookie kind of poetry that's so common in everyday culture. That underlines a second genre-transcending impulse of mine, creating something like an essayistic or meditative poetry.

  • The five-act structure is motivated by my interest in the classical theater play, as well as classical music, where I prefer the five-movement symphony.

I then had the idea of a mathematical twist. Act one would be the core piece, the actual treatise on the sublime. The thematic background for the entire treatise partly follows Burke's essay "A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful."

Act I would need a sub-structure within itself. I decided for a three-part structure with a prologue and epilogue and an in-between. The central idea was to create a mathematical matrix with the determinant being zero, alas an ironic play on the content: Even though there are many, many words uttered, the result is empty. (Though it may seem tempting, even though I name the act "Matrix", it has nothing to do with the famous movie as such; the mathematical component has been the key motivator.)

I wanted the elements of the matrix within a column to rhyme, and ten was the maximum of rhymes I thought bearable. The Greek numbering even allowed for the first column (Haze, Maze &c) to rhyme with its title (heis=one). I only wanted half a matrix: it was sufficient to prove my point with the determinant. I also liked the graphical component of decreasing intensity. So the matrix itself would form steps, a play on the title of the poem, creating a climactic (or anticlimactic) structure. If the order ("taxis") of the matrix is anticlimactic, the prologue ("prótaxis") was to be climactic, and it, too, had to climb up ten stairs (ten metric feet to be achieved by the end). The "epítaxis" could have used a similar logic, but that would have meant outdoing it, it would have been too predictable, so I wrote a "normal" stanza, returning to the stairs only in the middle of act two, and again at the end of act four.

The five-act structure was originally not planned in advance, but emerged later: "In Dreams" originally was a stand-alone piece, and I incorporated it only after I recognized it to be the perfect conclusion to "Klimax", as in the end, I had absolutely no idea of how to end it. So the original structure has the Protaxis in the beginning and end, and loosely in the middle (as act three is so short). Sometimes, words have a logic of their own, and once you set yourself on a path, things seem to fall into place, and all planning is just theory...

The matrix itself is now executed in the following parts, with two of them standing out; 1.10 "Days", which will stay empty to make the calculation work out; and 5.2 "Be", which is a rather erratic piece of biological terms put together, underlining the physicality, the rawness of being, the part of the sublime we carry within. The final part, 10.10 "Rise", starts with resuming the "wake / and make" formula or mantra that will now be a central part of the story arc throughout my following poems. The epilogue, "Epítaxis", is less a closer than something pushing forward, again, returning to "wake / and make", and leading further.

The first interlude, "Clues", explains the mathematical principle behind the Matrix, and expands on the issue of nothingness. Its reductionist approach is illustrated by its decreasing structure: the first stanza has 16 lines and 8 feet (foreshadowing the coming hexameter in the next act), the second 8, the third 4, the fourth only 2, the fifth 1, and in order to reduce further, the feet are reduced in the following, from 8 to 4 to 2 to 1.

This half-hearted reduction is reversed in the next act by a full climax towards an hexameter in the form of

· · -   · · -   · · -   · · -   · · -   · · -

... which means 6 anapests, equaling a total of 18 feet in the end. Each stanza will grow both in width (feet) and height (number of lines), forming a matrix starting with 1*1 leading up to 18*18; and this time, there's no empty element. Furthermore, all stanzas will have the same end rhyme. The end rhyme of each stanza is cited in the penultimate feet of the first line of the next stanza, thus providing an element of continuity (e.g., "Fall - All will; And kill - And fill out"). The additional feet of the meter are added to the front: - // · - / · - // · · - &c. The dots in the beginning of a triplet of stanzas signify the number of "finished" anapests. The structure is broken up in the middle by an interlude repeating the "wake / and make" (later translated to Latin as "excita / et face" - while the true imperative for facere (to make) would be fac, I modify it to the archaic or dialectal form face to align with the meter).

When I'm already using archaic forms anyway, why not go all the way in. I've always wanted to write something in Latin, played around with it a bit in my earlier poem "Breakdown", created the free-association-kind of translation of the Latin "Requiem", so now it had to be something directly written in Latin. I already cited Plato's Apology of Socrates in the "Matrix" part and had also written two smaller sections in Greek. But a whole part in Latin (and, were it not in the direct context of "Klimax", a whole poem in itself) would be something entirely different. But why do it at all? The why is answered in the how: Language is at the center of poetry, and different languages can express different things differently. If you look closely at the second interlude, you will see that certain associations are possible in Latin more than they are in English (like "cades/cecidis/caecatus es"; and the "sci/audi/vide" paradigm). Thus the desired content in a way dictates the form; with all the connotations accompanying it.

As form is all-important in the entire poem, the interlude has a framed structure, framing the content by the words audire (to hear) and videre ( to see) - the senses in the center of the effects of the sublime - while scire (to know) is questioned.

The next act, "Descent", is basically content-driven, resuming my (till then) almost canonical six-stanza rule, though breaking up rhyme and meter when necessary: Formal elements not having an importance in themselves, they have to be motivated; once such motivation can only be artificial, it should fall.

Limbo, the third interlude, is just what is implied by the title, resuming the tone of Taxis 5.2 "Be" and "Epítaxis." The motto of the phase, Chaos Kai Nomos / Chaos and Order ("order" in the "nomos" sense of political, normative order; thus juxtaposing natural self-ordering (chaos) with culturally imposed order (nomos)), is mentioned directly, followed by a direct attack upon received hierarchical thinking in religious canons. That may appear surprising after my more conservative-looking utterances in "Requiem" and my earlier poems in German, but it isn't really; those are all creative counterpoints; I despise dogma, and once I cite it, it's always a citation waiting for a counter-argument.

As said before, the form is waiting for a counter-argument; so the relation between Interlude Four and Act Four looks rather odd size-wise; the interlude having gained in relation to the act itself. In a motion in favor of categorial unity, a double-line from "Boustrophêdon" is taken up and varied (B.: "not the slightest doubt gets lost here / not the slightest piece is mine dear" Kl.: "Not the slightest piece gets lost here"), thus turning a more pessimistic tone into a more optimistic one. Thematically, Act Four closes the treatise as such, and the Interlude becomes more of a conclusion; retaking previous arguments and bringing them to an end, therefore also being termed a "Remix."

How to conclude? Structurally, thematically, and phase-wise, "Klimax" is the real break with my well-ordered rhyming earlier poems in my Phase Two. This needs to be made clear in a more obvious way, so I need to refer back to the past and create a motion towards the present. The cornerstone of Phase Two is the Ennealogy Thread (represented in this book by "Dreams Deep Down", see also philjohn.com), so this is what needs to be cited. Thus the Remix ends with citing the catch-phrases of said thread: "Dreams Deep Down", "Fire Walks With Me" (in itself quoting David Lynch's "Fire, Walk With Me" phrase from Twin Peaks), "Light and Shadow" (with is also meant as a strong allusion to Manichaeism in general, and specifically Wagner's Ring, Babylon 5, and Tolkien's Lord of the Rings) and "Neverwhere", here cited indirectly by quoting Poe's "Nevermore" from his "Raven."

As the mysteries associated with the dream are the epitome of the sublime, the final act is called "In Dreams". And so, we begin in the diction of the Ennealogy, but rapidly breaking the form by breaking both rhyme and meter. That process of dissolution is assisted by two plays on form again, in stanza V the first six lines are broken in two (the first half always being "In dreams it is", the second half having no connection to the first and thus starting anew with a capital letter), and in stanza VI, again in the beginning, reducing the phrase further ("In dreams it is" / "In dreams it" / "In dreams" / "In") while otherwise staying within the formal surroundings of the Ennealogy (4 iambic meters and 10 rhyming couplets). Stanza V directly refers to the previous content, taking up the motif of "Blood" from Taxis 5.2 "Be", referencing to madness (and the Raven) with "Raving" and, finally, with the obligatory "Wake!" back to the "Prótaxis". Stanza VI now delivers some sort of transcendental harmony at the end.

The Postludium refers back to the beginning, again resuming the mathematical impetus behind the matrix (that of emptiness) and ends with quoting "Fade to Black", the final mentioning of the Ennealogy, the past. So it is a return back to the point of departure; the poem is forming a circle, a kind of ouroboros even, a snake eating its own tail.

Part Three, Trauma, illustrates the effect of life-changing events. Following a succession of smaller poems - "GONE", "LET IT RAIN", "DOWNWARD SPIRAL" and "HUSH NOW", which are thematically connected -, "RAP" is an angry piece as a reaction to the twin tower attacks on September 11, 2001 in New York city - "The stories have fallen" refers to building stories, as well as stories about the event. It illustrates the general distrust in established knowledge and authority that continues to permeate the world after the attacks.

Part Four, Questioning, exposes full force the crisis of faith that has been brewing since the beginning of this set of poems. "SILENCE" is an apprehensive counterpoint to what is coming later. You know the end is near, but you take time to stall in the face of the sublime, of the inevitable. A few smaller poems, "HIDE", "CAN'T YOU JUST", "PUPPET" and "INCONNU", are set between the two syllogies and provide a sense of feelings of fear and insignificance, the need for human contact, the feeling of being manipulated, and a fragile sense of hope in love (in French). At last, "FAITH NO MORE" is the demonic scherzo, similar to the Purgatory in Mahler's 10th symphony. The poem is a no-holds-barred frustration-fueled rant against the establishment, especially the church. "ACCEPT", "THE THIRD COMING" and "DISTANT" try to soften the blow, but maintain the argument. "SEEK OUT" sets the stage for the conclusion.

Part Five, Redefinition, needs to level things out, but also, like a good Sonata Form symphonic movement, recapitulate the drama then came before. In "ΔAIMONIA / DEMONS", which is slightly longer than "Klimax", I follow a polytheistic understanding of gods as daimonia, forces that are within us. This echoes Socrates' understanding of his "daimonion" as his inner conscience. Rather than to deal with external agents and authorities, "Demons" deals with the inner self, and aims at resituating, redefining the conflict of faith by creating a more wholesome understanding of human psychology. Finally, "IN ALL MY DREAMS" aims for a hopeful conclusion to this rather lengthy battle of the poetic wills.

Thank you, dear reader, for joining me in this undertaking - I hope you find the effort worthwhile, and that after (hopefully) hypnotic meters and allusions and streams of consciousness you will have had a chance to experience a similarly cathartic effect as when I was writing these lines more than 15 years ago.







Table of Contents:

INTRODUCTION, ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I: CERTAINTY

DREAMS DEEP DOWN
REQVIEM
THE DREAM

II: INTROSPECTION

BOUSTROPHEDON
KLIMAX / CLIMAX / DE SVBLIMITATE

III: TRAUMA

GONE
LET IT RAIN
DOWNWARD SPIRAL
HUSH NOW
RAP

IV: QUESTIONING

SILENCE
HIDE
CAN'T YOU JUST
PUPPET
INCONNU
FAITH NO MORE
ACCEPT
THE THIRD COMING
DISTANT
SEEK OUT

V: REDEFINITION

DAIMONIA / DEMONS
IN ALL MY DREAMS




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