Today I ended Axis & Allies. I’m happy to now declare myself to the world as an epic poet. Whether I’m any good I shall leave to all our posterities. I began the day drunk but determined; packed a wee bag of food from last night’s campfire – a jacket potato & some chilli left overs – emptied the remnants of the wine into a plastic bottle & began my hike. It was tough at first, but step by step I began to wake up, assisted very much by a dip in the Jesus Falls. I spent an hour just reviving there, watching a beautiful dragonfly sit on a rock, then go for a wee fly, then return to the same spot, then repeat the whole hypnotic sequence again.
I then began my climb up the Gria Vathra – to the source of the river Gria. At first the path was easy, but it soon broke out into open rock climbing. It was a fond moment, for when I began Axis & Allies in 2001 I used to go scrambling up the wee cliffs at Happy Valley, Tunbridge Wells, while composing A&A.
I’d actually started two years ago, when I’d invented the Tryptych form in Brighton one October evening, composing two stanzas for my Waterloo poem, composed the following Summer. Here’s the first of them which still stands as the invocation to A&A.
There is a glade in an ancyent forest
Where glittering pools of molten azure
Assail ripe sense… insliding, moonbeam-bless’d,
Soul bathes in blissful dreamtimes gleaming pure;
My nine naked maidens,
Vulvaean lullaby lilting thro’ love gardens.
She harps a song, she summons stars,
She waltzes round the waters,
She treats these sainted battlescars,
She paints a floating lotus,
She strums her summergold guitars,
How lovely & how livid floods thy light,
What verses & what wonders must I write?
They ring & weave thro’ tryptych tones,
Sing rich enchanted chime,
Soft music hones their mystic moans,
& so… my all must rhyme…
With hopes of flashing heroes up Parnassus slopes we’ll climb!
After completing Waterloo, it was while travelling on a train between Bognor & Arundel, just after the floods of 2000, that I was hit by the concept of a 10,000 line epic on World War Two – 500 tryptychs in total. The bulk of these were composed in & from my base in Tunbridge Wells the following year. My composition period ran through the events of 9-11, which I also wrote tryptychs, about along with some about the birth of Rome & others on my first tour of India.
By 2006 I was then knitting all the parts together – from Troy to the modern day – & completed these on the islands of Marettimo & Malta in the early parts of 2007. From there I had four major bursts of creativity in 2008, 2011, 2016 & finally, the final 37 stanzas composed on my recent tour of the Aegean.
The last stanza was completed at the Gria Vathra itself, where I made the above film in which the very last line of poetry came to me. I was also visited by the spirit of my grandmother – it was an overwhelming, tear-draining sen sation. I think she was proud of me, as if she was attending my graduation ceremony. Here is that final stanza in full;
With groggy noggin, nine o clock, drunk still,
My steps besober’d up Poseidon slopes,
Wild dragonflies in escort hill to hill,
A spirit free from toil that here elopes
With muses nine
Naked in pools & falls
Inviting me to dine on melons, wine & rolls.
With breakfast done the climb began
Force following the shadow
Of something more than that young man
Who started this years ago
From path to rock I laughed & ran
The joyous gigalo
‘This way,’ say Clio & Calliope
Perch’d on steep stone, strumming ukelele.
He dove into that perfect pool
With bed of Autumn leaves
Sat on a stool of granite cool
He elegant recieves
One final line of poetry, what tapestry he weaves.
It was an apt place to finish. Legend has it that Poseidon crawled out of the sea to perch upon Mount Saos – which towered high above me on the climb – in order to watch the Fall of Troy across the Aegean Sea. A metaphor perhaps, for an epic poem to rival the Iliad, if I may be so bold.
So what next? Well, I have started to put the 100 cantos online, where you can also find an abridged version I made available to buy in book form. But the poem is now ready to be read in its entireity. 900 tryptychs divided into 100 cantos. I hope to have it all available for perusal soon enough, & Greece seems the perfect place to do it.
Damian Beeson Bullen