Book Review: A Column of Cloud and a Column of Fire: Dimitris Lyacos’ Poena Damni
One of the most original and significant texts to have come out of Europe in the past generation is Dimitris Lyacos’ poetic
trilogy, Poena Damni. I call it “poetic” because there is no word that quite describes a work that moves alternately between
poetry, prose, and drama, and that turns each like a prism in a quest for meaning that yields no final stability but only a
“further horizon of pain” (The First Death, Section X).
As the above suggests, the text offers us a shifting series of scenes and perspectives, somewhere between a journey and a
travail. There is an implicit narrative voice, but no narrative, that shifts abruptly from first to third person, a thread of
consciousness that weaves in and out of dream and waking, fantasy and vision, confronting us at every turn with that which
both forces and repels our sight. You know there is a narrative, because something in the voice compels you to continue; you
simply do not know what is being told. You are simply within the framework of a temporality in its most radical sense.
Dimitris Lyacos was born in Athens in 1966, and studied law and philosophy. It was conceived back to front, with its
“last” part, The First Death, written and published first, and the other segments proceeding backwards toward an origin that
instates the original wound of the poem’s birth. Lyacos has revised it extensively over the course of some thirty years,
retracting an earlier version of what is now With the People From the Bridge that was originally published as Nyctivoe and
heavily revising the text called Z213: EXIT. The suggestion, I think, is clear: the poem remains open, a circularity that
deflects all progression, an ourobouros that never meets its own tail.