13 Secret Rooms, Rumoured to be Located in the Basement

1. Impossible to see anything in here, thanks to the total absence of light. Torches don’t work in this room. No one knows how big it is.

2. It looks as if it used to be a bathroom. Tiled floor and walls, copper pipes, damp-stained ceiling. But there’s no bath, sink or toilet.

3. Little voices, quiet, soft as the down on your arm. Little whispers, words too faint to discern. You sink into a mildewed sofa.

4. Not so much a room as a closet. Not so much a closet as a box. Not so much a box…

5. Cabinets, vitrines. The fluorescent tubes don’t work any more. Case 12 contains the remains of a creature that looks part man, part bird.

6. What the fuck you doing in here? Who said you could come in? Can’t you see what we’re doing? Get the fuck out!

7. The basement is a symbol of the underworld, or Hades, itself a symbol of the unconscious, or Id. To descend into it is to enter oneself.

8. What they took at first to be a torture chamber transpired to be a gym. Bodies in motion, strung out on equipment, broken in rows.

9. A bedroom, in which all of the furniture is formed from naked people, contorted in attitudes of obscene joy.

10. A padded cell or perhaps a playroom of some sort. The people here seem very happy.

11. A feast is laid out before you. Plates are hands, offering lurid mouthfuls of food. The table’s ears are spoons, its eyes grapes.

12. There is nothing in this room, just you. When you leave and close the door behind you, the room ceases to exist.

13. Hotels don’t contain a Room 13. The basement does. When you enter it you fall into a dream that is a little death, a little surrender.


I’ve added a new tab to my website: 13. Click on it to read all my 13-part prose poems and a preface, explaining how they came about.

All texts on this site are the copyright of James Knight. All rights reserved.



I’ve added a new tab to my website: 13. Click on it to read all my 13-part prose poems and a preface, explaining how they came about.


The Madness of the Bird King

“A brilliant piece of work.” Jeff Noon, author of Channel SK1N, Vurt and The Automated Alice.

The Madness of the Bird King is a poetic picture book for grown-ups. It presents the reader with the enigmatic Bird King and his world, in a poem made of twelve fragments, each with an accompanying watercolour illustration by Diana Probst.

In constructing our little book, Diana and I wanted to offer the adult reader the feelings of delight, wonder and joyful terror that young children experience daily, when immersing themselves in picture books like The Gruffalo and Where the Wild Things Are. Much of that rich emotional experience is a result of the potent combination of text and image; the magic of The Madness of the Bird King is generated by the connections and disjunctions between my words and Diana’s beautiful pictures, which are not illustrations in any traditional sense. Although each painting was inspired by a Bird King fragment, we have not paired them up. Indeed, some of the pictures were inspired by tweets that didn’t make it to the finished poem.

What follows are the first three parts of our twelve part work. In the book, my text appears on the left hand page, and Diana’s illustration appears on the right. The Bird King himself may sometimes be glimpsed, fleeting between the two.



The Bird King is mad again.

He caws
through empty midnight streets,
moulting tar-black



The Bird King’s wings:
stiff machinery
cobbled together from wire,
corrugated iron.

But the feathers are real, seasonal:

Spring: urinous, downy.
Summer: purples, scarlets.
Autumn: rust-tinged greys.
Winter: a widow’s fan.



The Bird King spends much of his time
asleep on a throne of lightbulbs,
dreaming of love.

Waiting in the wings: his retinue of electricians.

Sometimes he wakes,

His laughter breaks glass,
frightens animals.

He cackles and crackles on his electric throne.


Copies of the book can be purchased here.

Find out more about Diana and her work here. You can read Diana’s account of her work on the Bird King book here.

All texts on this site are the copyright of James Knight. All images on this post are the copyright of Diana Probst. All rights reserved.

13 Transformations, Witnessed by a Nine Year Old Boy on a Hot Day in August

1. Rose petals quiver in the dry breath of Summer, glow like embers, become butterfly wings.

2. The gap between the evergreens, leading to the enclosed world of compost heap, shed, greenhouse, is a solid shadow, tangible darkness.

3. The neighbour’s cat is an inquisitorial eye. Silently intrusive, it interrogates the lawn, the flower beds, the leaves twitching on branches.

4. The sun is a disc of water.

5. A pigeon feather see-saws down to the parched grass, a leaf falling from a bird-tree.

6. Up close, worming among coarse grass blades: a blind, wingless dragon.

7. Behind him, in the hot stillness: a house that is a cenotaph. Mum and Dad sit motionless in a dead man’s living room.

8. Clouds are the fossils of impossible animals.

9. Young fingers follow the contours of the stone angel’s breasts. A touch becomes a thrill. He hesitates, withdraws. The house at his back is frowning.

10. Birdsong is a broken symphony played on Looney Tunes instruments.

11. The ants are going haywire. They scuttle, agitate, scurry, topple, their circuitry fizzing and sparking.

12. The earth’s skin blisters and cracks in the heat.

13. The heat, the long Summer, the garden, boredom, solitude, death, are a limbo, a daydream, ingredients for a story.


This prose poem is a study for the novel I’m writing and contains all of the raw ingredients for that narrative.

All material on this site is the copyright of James Knight. All rights reserved.

A guest slot

I’m very honoured to have a guest slot on the blog of a fellow member of @echovirus12, the very talented poet, Mina Polen.

Mina’s blog contains lots of her poetry, in English and Spanish, and is a treasure trove of images, ideas and sensations. Have a look!

So far, Mina has published two pieces from The Death of the Bird King, a long poem entitled The Monsters and part two of the collection’s title piece, A Portrait of the Bird King.

Later today, Mina’s blog will feature an exclusive, an ONEIROSCOPE poem, and next week an old poem from the vaults…

I’m very grateful to Mina for running this mini online James Knight festival!