Coming soon: 13

My new book is shaping up. Like The Madness of the Bird King, it is a collaboration with the artist Diana Probst.

The book is called 13, a collection of thirteen prose poems, each in thirteen parts and preceded by one of Diana’s pictures, in ink and watercolour. Here is an example of one that won’t be included in the finished book, but which gives a flavour of the style. It depicts a cocoon (a recurring motif in the book, as it was in The Madness of the Bird King).


The 13 as a form

I like the 13-part structure for three reasons. First, the supernatural connotations of the number mean that the reader is made slightly uneasy or apprehensive. Second, since each part is initially written as a tweet, I can make a fairly developed piece which still benefits from the concision and intensity of that form. Third, because 13 is an odd number, there are opportunities for balance and symmetry, hinging on the mid point, part seven.

My 13s are not narratives. Each constituent tweet is a self-contained miniature, but they interconnect, by playing on, varying and developing images and ideas. Here is a 13 that will appear in the book; it’s entitled Grandma’s Eyes.

1. She found the book at twilight in the silence of the forest. It was bound in red leather. When she opened it, the pages turned into moths and fluttered in drunken spirals, aspiring to the moon.

2. Grandma’s garden has gnomes, roses, a lovingly mown lawn. But her greenhouse is home to a thousand desperate twisted things, gasping, blind.

3. She pauses before the door to the forbidden room. The apple-shaped doorknob is warm, smooth. In her other hand: a key like a snake’s tongue.

4. Grandma sips a cup of tea. A broken wolf stares at her from the prison of a picture frame.

5. The curtains of her eyelids are the forest. Denser and denser into the heart, into the wet darkness, into the house of phantoms.

6. Grandma’s teeth are knives, hatchets, crenellations, the serrated canopy of the endless forest.

7. When she breaks the mirror she swoons into a long, restless sleep. Her lips turn to rose petals, her hair to snakes. Her sex becomes a seashell. Put it to your ear: listen to the mermaids murmuring in an ocean of blood.

8. Red roses proliferate in the Kingdom of the Wolf. Grandma’s skull is a cave. Inside, you’ll hear the voices of the dead.

9. In her heart is a mirror in whose surface you may catch a glimpse of the witch, an apple, a rose bush, a broken sword.

10. In Grandma’s eyes you’ll see a red moon, red shoes, secret flames, the howling storm. She shows her bleeding palms to the heavens.

11. Opening the door to room 13, she finds herself entering a candlelit bedroom. Her double is sitting at the dressing table, smiling at her own reflection.

12. In the Medusa coils of Grandma’s floral wallpaper: the statue of a wolf.

13. An axe, a grin, a labyrinth of trees. The girl, now a woman, writes her name in blood on the mirror of the moon.


13 will be finished soon. I’ll keep you posted.

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