13 terrible claws. A tribute to Maurice Sendak…

1. Max’s wolf costume is not a disguise.

2. Darkness makes us susceptible to the irrational. We lose our grip, if only slightly. That scratching noise could be a monster.

3. The colour yellow is suggestive of cowardice or being pissed off. Do the yellow eyes of the wild things signify melancholy?

4. Words in patterns, making rhythms, like a spell.

5. The boat bears his name. It could be argued that this delightful little vessel is not so much Max’s property as a symbol of him.

6. We’ve all met the wild things. When we look at their pictures they don’t surprise us.

7. Art is a wild rumpus.

8. Max’s crown doesn’t fit. He doesn’t know how to enjoy his despotism. Mimicking mummy, he loses himself.

9. What does Max’s mum look like? She’s a voice, a reproach, morality, accepted values. In Freudian terms, she may represent the superego.

10. Max’s dream recurs every time anyone reads the book.

11. The offer of a homecoming: “We’ll eat you up, we love you so!”

12. Max’s tale is one of transgression, forgiveness and redemption. But don’t let that put you off.

13. Everything I have ever written has been a variation on Where the Wild Things Are.


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


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.


Recently, the poet George Szirtes invited me and Aksania Xenogrette to discuss Twitter literature, its characteristics and possibilities. George had been kind enough to review a copy of time lines, an anthology of Twitter poets, and this has led to some interesting discussion of Twitter as a literary medium. We hope to continue the colloquy live on Twitter soon.

Below are some thoughts I emailed to George and Aksania. Apologies if they seem limited in scope to my personal practice; I can only write with authority about what I’ve experienced. I would welcome comments and reactions.


Virtually any established narrative or poetic form could work on Twitter, though most would be fragmented (or organised) into several tweets.

Many twitter poets label their tweets #haiku, as if to say, “I know micropoetry isn’t a respected form, so here’s a label that should convince you I’m a real poet.” This diffidence suggests a conservative attitude to form that I find surprising, given the violent upheavals that poetry experienced from the late 19th Century (Whitman, Dickinson, Rimbaud), then through modernism and the avant-garde. A poet should be an adventurer.

One question is, what new forms of literary expression exist or could exist on twitter? In my preface to time lines I suggested that the tweet could be considered a literary form in itself (though obviously it has non-literary uses too). The 140 character limit is conducive to a highly concentrated manner of expression that leaves a lot to the imagination or interpretation of the reader; in other words, a tweet is conducive to poetry.

The ephemerality of the tweet gives it a spectral quality that cannot be achieved by the solidity of black ink on a white page. This is a characteristic that distinguishes a tweet from, say, an imagist poem or any other very brief text.

I have read many tweets that constitute beautiful or arresting poems in themselves. However, single-tweet pieces have their limitations, and can be tedious or unsatisfying for the reader, after a while. Longer forms, comprising series of tweets, are a solution to this problem. For example, I have written numerous 13-part prose poems (which I refer to as 13s), in which images and ideas are varied or developed across the sequence. Each part is a numbered tweet; a reader may suddenly encounter something like this in his timeline:

4. Christ-in-the-Box leaps heavenward, eyes agog.

The number should encourage him to look back for numbers 1 to 3, and maybe anticipate 5 and beyond. Each part may be taken as a self-contained miniature – there is no overarching narrative – and yet it forms part of a larger structure.

A key aspect of twitter is interaction. An author might tweet material and then receive replies from followers: augmentations, questions, suggestions, variations. For example, many of my Bird King tweets prompted replies in a similar style from various people. A reader following me and someone who had replied to me would thus have an enriched reading experience, seeing a dialogue or a tennis-match of ideas going back and forth. This phenomenon is unique to twitter; you could copy and paste such a creative dialogue into a static document, but reading that document world be a very different experience from seeing the tweets appear in real time.

There are twitter accounts with multiple authors, such as @echovirus12, set up by Jeff Noon. Such accounts allow individuals to contribute anonymously to a narrative or, in the case of Jeff’s group, play the twitter equivalent of the exquisite corpse or an OuLiPo game.

Another example of creative interaction is my ONEIROSCOPE project. I invite anyone who happens to be looking at their timelines to request a single-tweet bespoke dream. They can specify up to three words that I have to include. I try to respond as quickly as possible, and include details that I think will resonate with the recipient, based on prior acquaintance or a quick look at his bio and tweets. Whenever I tweet that the ONEIROSCOPE is open for business I get a lot of returning customers. This, on a small scale, exemplifies the buzz of live interaction on twitter.

Quality is an interesting problem. At least 90% of twitterature is crap; solipsism, banality, empty paradoxes, glib philosophy and incompetent writing abound. Should we devise criteria for judging quality? That would be an interesting and difficult exercise.

One last thought – for now. The experience of reading online, and on mobile devices in particular, is radically different from that of reading a book. The reader’s experience is something we should investigate. I suspect it will unlock the real value of twitterature and show why twitter provides something with which conventional publishing (including self-published books like time lines) can never compete.

13 tweets to lament the anniversary of the Bird King’s birth and celebrate his deserved death

One year ago exactly I wrote my first Bird King text and tweeted it through @echovirus12. Here it is:

The Bird King is mad again. He caws through empty midnight streets, moulting tar-black feathers.

That tweet was to be the start of a long series of Bird King texts, many of which would form parts of my long poems The Madness of the Bird King and The Death of the Bird King. What follows is a new 13 I wrote today, to mark the anniversary of that first tweet.

13 tweets to lament the anniversary of the Bird King’s birth and celebrate his deserved death

1. The Bird King is coiled inside an egg-shaped coffin. His rotting carcass blossoms with maggots. Who said death was the end?

2. Little is known of the Bird King’s parents. His father was a jackhammer, his mother a shrunken head, a victim of voodoo magic.

3. The Bird King was born in the waste land. Don’t go all glassy-eyed; the circumstances of his birth were neither pathetic not poetic.

4. The Bird King enjoyed a quiet childhood. He rowed little boats, started fires, made potions containing lemonade and piss. Happy days.

5. As a boy, the Bird King had only one friend: his shadow. Or so he thought. But the shadow despised him, plotted against him.

6. Adolescence was not a pleasant experience for the Bird King. Plumage and hair erupted from him. His song turned to a shriek.

7. The Bird King lost his virginity to an espresso machine. For the rest of his life he found the smell of coffee dangerously arousing.

8. The Bird King once mistook himself for a very large bee. Craving nectar, he shoved his head into the pale flower of a toilet bowl.

9. The Bird King changed swiftly from a character to a persona adopted by the author, a mask, a tool, a gimmick. His image proliferated.

10. I don’t know what the Bird King looks like. No one does, not even Diana Probst, for whom he sat.

11. The Bird King’s adult life is chronicled elsewhere, in a book. Most of that account is mendacious. So is this tweet. He liked a paradox.

12. In the mausoleum of the Bird King visitors are required to pay their respects by taking off their clothes and defecating on his coffin.

13. Happy birthday, Bird King. May your putrid wings carry you back to the nest of my skull.


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

13 machines from the Bird King’s private collection

1. The sparrows’ heads revolve slowly when you press the red button, but the boxing glove attachments don’t work.

2. A weird weaving of voices, unmusical harmony. One phrase punctures the texture: “The empty slot.”

3. Poems are processed into more useful verbal artefacts: shopping lists, legal documents, instructions for the use of contraceptives.

4. Christ-in-the-Box leaps heavenward, eyes agog.

5. Don’t look too closely at the little dials and switches. They present an infernal microcosm that will swallow you.

6. Tinier than a nanobot, it was once the scourge of the amoebae.

7. Simply place unwanted food in this funnel, pull the lever, and watch it emerge from this opening as the man or woman of your dreams!

8. I like the mouthpiece and the piston action of the fleshy appendages. But I dislike being aroused so violently.

9. It can’t just be a cage. It must do something, surely, to be classified as a machine? But it escapes me.

10. The user is invited to lick the touchscreen, and thereby induce nausea or an orgasm (sometimes both) in whoever’s image appears on it.

11. You’re having a fucking laugh, mate. What’s so special about this heap of shit? I’ve got ten like this at home, & they all smell better.

12. New from Mammon Inc: the Dream Egg. Let it hatch your secret desires.

13. Some of the other visitors think Machine 13 is actually the Bird King himself, encased in red plastic. Whatever it is, it terrifies me.

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