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Thoughts and Some Background on the Making of "Klimax"

Section Index

  1. Introduction
  2. History
  3. Group 14
  4. Structure
  5. Acts
  6. Closing Remarks

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1: Introduction

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 what has been laid out in the previous paragraph: To drive the dagger home, to make it count, to create something of a certain size - something which can somehow stand on its own, but also something subsuming all previous works, connecting loose ends and 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, something I had already briefly dealt with in a not much earlier poem called "Sublimity". Yet somehow I felt what had been done then to be insufficient, to be lacking something - mostly, the madness, the insanity, the utter might which such a topic would have to conjure up. Thus something else had to be done, something doing the topic more justice.

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; using hyperlinks to the respective poems and thus enlarging its scope even more by making the threads visible as links.

"Klimax" is the next step after my 1999 poem called "Breakdown" in terms of style and use of language. With "Breakdown", I had started to include a certain element of chaos into my poems, which was made more obvious with the introduction of poem phases this year - the motto of the respective third phase being "Chaos kai Nomos - Chaos and Order". So what follows in this article will first be a look at the history of "Klimax" by looking at its predecessors and successors and its general surrounding, before we come to discussing the poem itself in more depth.

You won't find a thorough interpretation in here, just some hints at how to approach it. I cannot tell you how to read it, as my perspective is valid only for myself - to quote Emerson, "There is then creative reading, as well as creative writing"[1] - I can't rob you of your responsibility as a reader.

December 5th, 2000

2: History

A poem like "Klimax" doesn't appear out of nowhere, it needs precursors and lots of effort and time - and poems like this one are probably rather found in later periods and not in the very beginning. Being my 124th poem, it indeed has some past history flowing into it - sources it draws from, stylistic elements and background which is worth mentioning.

Phase Two was all about stability and well-defined norms and forms; it was about regularity and smoothness in style, meaning furthermost rhyme and rhythm. There is no poem in Phase Two which lacks both a rhyme and a continuous meter, it's all about stability, predictability, beauty - in the form. The content of the poems, however, does very well address certain issues later to be conjured up in "Klimax": And the direct precursor, the initiating element, "Sublimity", is indeed a poem of said phase.

Apart from two larger German poems in Group 9, Phase Two features mostly moderately-sized poems, carefully weighing the material and restricting any possible outbursts by formal criteria like numbers of stanzas (mostly 6), and even establishing a continuous storyline throughout the category-closing poems in groups 8, 10 and 11 - thereby for the first time creating a story arch spanning more than just one group or category, thus giving the entire phase a sense of Closure.

Group 13 then seems to go on where its predecessors left - with four very important exceptions and deviations from the road. "Centum", my number 100, was to be my largest poem till then, using basically the same symmetrical five-part sub-structure created for Group 9, an asymmetrical variation of which was to be used for "Klimax" also, as well as for the group closer, "Requiem", which got to be even longer than "Centum". Both in unison are aiming for a synthesis of two seemingly opposing concepts: A rather holistic and Buddhist-centered world view ("Centum") is counterposed to a rather Judeo-Christian-centered view ("Requiem"), thus in part overcoming the rather strict assumptions behind the Judeo-Christian-only Group 4. Both these poems outdo everything I've done before, thus violating the aiming for harmony which was critical for Phase Two.

Yet the most obvious departure from proven paths was to be "Breakdown" - illustrating old, stable forms and boundaries breaking down into a wild mixture of languages, losing meter and rhyme, losing contents and sanity; a deliberate construction of chaos. This is the direct starting point for "Klimax", yet it would take more than a year for it to bear fruit.

The fourth element I was talking about is a rather small poem in the third category of Group 13, "White", a poem written after the completion of "Klimax" - showing something like the end result of the coming deconstruction of formal elements, and also linking my interests in poetry with my interests in photography.

January 15th, 2001

3: Group 14

None of my poems can stand on its own, they're all interconnected and subjected to a greater whole. They are embedded into the meta-structure formed by the categories, the groups and the poem phases. Amongst all poem groups, Group 14 is the largest to date, featuring 20 poems, including my largest one, "Klimax". And with only 2,067 words plus the 10,176 of "Klimax", Group 14 is a climax indeed - a climax of all what has been before, and of most to come.

Category One, Intraxions, is a group of smaller poems, loosely centered around the topic of introducing something new and interjecting something into another; its topic is that of becoming, of change, mostly, with some exceptions. The concept behind these poems can be summarized by the following:

  • to create smaller poems with a certain twist ("Backside Apertures")
  • to aim for a self-reflexive approach ("Entr'acte")
  • to step by step lose both rhyme and meter (accomplished finally with "Becoming")
  • to combine the abstract with the more concrete, perhaps with a more mimetic approach than before ("Backside Apertures" and "Becoming")

All of these elements continue to be dealt with in group 2, Tempestates, my first direct collection of love poetry. The category will have a culminating aftermath in the rather pessimistic outburst that is "Broke Down", originally positioned at the end of said category, but for reasons of temporal continuity, as it has been finished after "Klimax", moved to the next group's category two; yet its content is still linked to the events and logic of that category.

Category Three, Quagmires, starts with a strange-looking experiment about visual form, "Boustrophêdón", whose inner structure (rhyme and meter) remain strict and regular, yet whose content is about change, and it's the first poem in which I make use of the F-word; thus it can be seen as an indicator of a more direct style, the vernacular being an utter necessity for that.

"Anticlimax" was conceived as a singular poem, yet it basically started the successing one. The existence of an anticlimax somehow demands for a climax. And as I was thinking about a poem about the sublime anyway, both those concepts merged and formed the demand for the poem to succeed this little one, and it also seemed to make perfect sense to incorporate "Anticlimax" more directly into the structure of the then upcoming "Klimax" in using the same line of thought ("the poems to come", again a self-reflexive approach) for the Prae- and Postludium of "Klimax", thus basically tripling "Anticlimax", and between the second and third variation, including "Klimax".

January 25th, 2001

4: Structure

Klimax was conceived as a very large poem, and to achieve such size, it is necessary to provide it 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:

  1. The size reflects the topic of sublimity.

  2. Only within a certain size can a specific topic of a certain complexity be treated adequately.

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

  4. In relation to this, there's more room for experimentation on the formal level.

  5. The larger the body of text, the more representative can the result be 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.

  6. As I was about to change my style of writing, a larger form gave me plenty opportunity to stage that break more convincingly.

  7. I'm hereby trespassing the limits of what is usually understood as poetry, returning to the bigger forms also means to go archaic. This development will further lead to a pseudo-dramatic development in later Syllogies like Demons, creating a mixed form hovering between poetry and drama.

  8. 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.

  9. The argument is equally valid, and as can be seen from the word "Syllogy" itself, for the musical form of the symphony.

To carry size, a structure is needed; my five-part structure directly follows the five-act structure of the classical drama. (Actually, I intended to also incorporate this structure into all my poems from the very beginning, but that was prevented by a combination of "accident" and stubbornness: My very first poem just wasn't finished after five stanzas, so I needed six; and for the sake of tradition, as my first bunch of poems are closely linked together thematically (all of Group 1), I continued with that (or halved it to three) till it stuck. The end of this six-stanza structure only comes with the advent of Phase Three.) The five-act structure is also motivated from my interest in classical music, where I prefer the five-movement symphony (which I believe to be an incorporation of the five-act structure into music, but I'm no musicologist, so I can't really be sure about that).

I've used five acts before (Syllogies II, III, IV, VI), but there was something missing. The five-act structure alone appeared a bit naked to me, I felt the need to extend it, to soften the edges and borders. I already had been using prologues and epilogues, for I don't just want to start abruptly, I want to ease in and out. Now what I did was to add interludes between the acts, serving both as buffers and as proactive elements carrying the action further.

The next step was the organization of the acts themselves, they had to be more thoroughly laid out; and here I broke with the symmetry I had used before. The formal elements of acts and pro-/inter-/post-ludes would be symmetrical, but not the content filling them.

July 21st, 2003

5: Acts

To start with, I needed to take up what's been said in Anticlimax, that would also be the scheme to end the entire poem.

I then had the idea of a mathematical twist. So Act one came into being: it would be the core piece, the actual treatise on the sublime. It would need a sub-structure in 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 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, and why work myself to death, also, I 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 (protaxis then) was to be climactic, and it, too, had to climb up ten stairs (ten metric feet to be achieved by the end). The epitaxis could have used a similar logic, but that would have meant outdoing it, it would have been too predictable, so I did a "normal" stanza, returning to the stairs only in the middle of act two, and again at the end of act four. (That's because the five-act structure was not planned in advance, so I've been pretty much lying to you beforehand: "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). The thematic background for the entire treatise will partly follow Burke's essay "A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful".

The matrix itself is now executed in 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 that will now be a central part of the story arch throughout my following poems. The epilogue, epitaxis, 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   · · -   · · -   · · -     · · -   · · -   · · -   , that 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" paradigm (which will also return in Broken Down in a latin translation, "excita / et face").

When I'm using archaic forms anyway, why not go there directly in terms of language. I've always wanted to do something in Latin, played around with it a bit in Breakdown, created a free-association-kind of translation of the Latin Requiem, so now it had to be, something directly written in Latin. Actually, I had gone archaic before already, citing Plato's Apology in the Matrix part, and also writing 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"; cf. also Eventum Quartum from Fuga with its play on inaniter/inanimus/animal; which also resumes the "sci/audi/vide" paradigm established in Klimax). 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/videre (the senses, especially hearing and seeing being in the center of the effects of the sublime).

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 Epitaxis. 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 Group 4, 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" K: "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 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, 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 Babylon 5) and "Neverwhere", here cited indirectly by quoting Poe's "Nevermore" from his Raven. And 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 Protaxis. Stanza VI now delivers some sort of transcendental harmony at the end.

The Postludium is the second return of Anticlimax, again resuming the mathematical impetus behind the matrix (that of emptiness) and ends with quoting "Fade to Black", the final mentioning of the Ennealogy. 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.

July 21st, 2003

6: Closing Remarks

Some technical things before I conclude: Mostly, I write on paper and then type it, it just feels more right to write something by hand with a ballpen on paper, it feels more natural. Also, when writing, I usually use music as a background. For Klimax, that meant mainly two choices of music: The opening main title organ piece by John Ottman for 'House on Haunted Hill', and Jon Brion's score for 'Magnolia'. That basically set the mood for the entire piece. - - -

Klimax stands at a point where the transition from Phase Two to Phase Three has been completed, what came before were still something like hybrid forms, not quite having left the old paradigm, not yet having completely reached the new.

From what can be seen so far, it may have become a bit clearer that my poems do not quite function on their own, they need to be seen in the greater context, in unison. It is something like serial poetry that I'm after. I do not support the notion of completeness or completed-ness; also, I do not support the thought of creating only one perfect thing. There's no such thing anyway, there's always something that needs repair or readdressing. Whenever that is necessary, I feel the need to create something new, adding yet another layer of meaning and utterance to what has been said before. Of course, that makes the entire corpus of work appear immense and difficult to navigate. But what choice is there? To stop writing? To erase what still would be necessary to understand things? I would prefer not to.

July 24th, 2003


[1] Ralph Waldo Emerson. "The American Scholar". Nina Baym et al, ed. The Norton Anthology of American Literature. 4th ed., shorter. N.Y.: Norton 1995, 471. see also my respective seminar handout.

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