Larva, the latest collection of poetry by the wonderful Mina Polen, is out now, in a dual language edition catering for both English and Spanish readers.

Many of the poems and prose poems in Larva comprise series of tweets (illustrating the author’s skills as a practitioner of Twitterature), and they all explore the theme of transformation, in Mina’s characteristically bold, taut style. Here, as in her previous book (Scylla & Charybdis) the reader encounters a surrealistic synthesis of the real and the imaginary, deftly delivered and free of arbitrariness; Mina’s juxtapositions, though outlandish, obey a playful logic that shows a delight in language, and always resonate deeply with the reader.

I’ll say no more: what follows are two poems from the book, in their English versions. If they whet your appetite, you can buy Larva here.



His thoughts crystallized in drops, marbles and bubbles.
The room flooded with glass.
Self-absorbed, he kept thinking.

His sighs materialized in silk and a river was born from them.
There were meanders and wetlands.
Some of them -very deep- created canyons.

His concealed cries penetrated the earth.
Now they move beneath, direct heart quakes, coordinate erupting volcanoes.
They are fluid rock.

His nostalgia became fog.
It dripped down windows and walls, forming a dense bank below the ceiling. Above all, his nostalgia fogged his eyes.

His rancor became dark curtain, shining shadow.
Like oil it dripped, heavy, to the ocean floor.
From there, it went back to the night.

His sadness became a place in his chest where it was always raining.
A storm in his lungs when he cried.
An internal flooding.

His longings rose to the sky.
The vertical ones became cumulus, the wet ones nimbus and the cold ones
cirrus. They all reddened at dusk.

His desperation exploded.
Leaving behind sparkles, flame pieces, burnt traces.
His eyes gleam, the heart roasts and boils.

His will became a shadow: it grew, it shrank, disappeared.
Soft in the fog, intense under the sun light: viscous, ephemeral.

His fear became not darkness but blinding light.
Gaseous light growing and blinding everything and everybody.
Some say it is still growing.

His love took all shapes.
Cloud, oil, marble, wave, fog, shadow, drop, fluid rock, rain and volcanic eruption.
It became everything.



The dust he releases contains minute skin fragments and DNA. A half dead, half alive dust that creates a map of his presence in the world.

The dust of tears is an infinitesimal diamantine that plagues the world. You can see it against the light: ephemeral sparkly sad clouds.

The dust of desire slides in zig zag over silky surfaces searching for a destiny and an orgasm. It produces very small spasmodic echoes.

The dust of sweat jumps and explodes in confetti of activity, fear and anxiety. It survives in small universes that expand and contract.


Work in progress: Orpheus

One of my current writing projects is a long poem based on the myth of Orpheus. So far there are three sections: Lamb Shank, 1794 and the piece that follows, Orpheus & Eurydice, which has appeared on the Transformations website.

Orpheus and Eurydice


Moonlit clouds
hard as bone

A row of houses
seen from behind,
some trees:
pieces of a stage set

A parked car murmurs
muffled music

Peek inside
through misted glass

She’s under him, twisting

A circle of yellow light moves over them



humming a tune,
he sits up, runs a hand
over the back of his neck

That all you got?

He looks back at her
and she looks away;
she’s elsewhere

Somewhere else,
in another story:
a timer reaching zero

A curtain of cloud covers the moon.


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

Guerrilla literature

Lunar splashed. Fragile liquid wings. Spine cracking mornings. Keyboard played and fingers flitting…the upload begins..icon initialization – Virulent Blurb


Twitterary innovation

I have written elsewhere about Twitterature’s quiet revolution. I suspect it is about to get much noisier, thanks to Kneel Downe, a Twitter writer of exceptional boldness and energy, whose work is creating a buzz online. His long narrative @VirulentBlurb, begun in January 2012, depicts a poetic sci-fi universe that has spawned diverse side projects, from the detective fiction of @DetectiveLobo to the mythicism of Amelia, tweeted from Kneel’s main account (@kneeldowne) and recently collected into a beautiful book, Amelia’s Song. Yes, there are books (three so far and more promised), but they’re just one manifestation of Kneel’s tireless creativity.

Kneel shares with other Twitterateurs a facility for condensed expression, but he differs from many of them in his refreshingly heterogeneous style. The reader experiences a series of jolts as the prose shifts gear; hard-boiled brutality is juxtaposed with poetry, archaic syntactic inversions with outlandish neologisms. Kneel enjoys the sound and feel of words, the story as song. The effect is often thrilling. Here are two examples, one from @VirulentBlurb and one from Amelia’s Song.

Mine ears have heard the thrumming and the humming of the Lord. Secreted in the basement on a bed of circuit swords… the fatherlode shifts.

When Amelia was a little boy she dreamed of her husband… she saw maybes in a pool of when… so long ago. Steam trains and lonely queens…

Kneel’s polyphonic writing is most at home amidst the multitude of voices murmuring though a Twitter feed. His tweets come in manic bursts, out of nowhere, vivid and loud as parakeets. He improvises, riffs, lets the words take their natural course. He’s unguarded and volatile. This is guerrilla literature, raw and dangerous, a world away from the stability of books.

Part of the attraction of following Kneel’s main feed (@kneeldowne) is his personality. Much of what he tweets is not fiction. Like most Twitter users, he makes observations, interacts, retweets. But the personality that comes through those tweets is bigger than most. His enthusiasm, sense of humour and occasional irascibility are evident throughout his timeline. He delights and provokes, laying himself bare and not attempting to create a smooth persona that will gain him book sales. He tweets about other authors’ books more than he does about his own. Ironically, it’s his disregard for conventional marketing that is his most marketable trait.


Power to the self-published!

Although Kneel is self-published, he has friends on Twitter who promote his books. His agent, Steve Taylor-Bryant (@opiniongeeks), runs the DreamCage media group, which has its own Twitter feed (@DreamCageAgency), advertising books by Kneel and others. Meanwhile, Kneel’s creative partner, the supremely talented Susan Omand (@OmandOriginal) markets his books through another Twitter feed, @Blurbinfo. Both of these official channels have low numbers of followers at present, but everyone has to start somewhere. Because Kneel, Steve and Susan have cultivated strong friendships online, between their various personal and official accounts they have plenty of followers (including me) who are happy to retweet a book plug or help spread news of Kneel’s activity.


Rock n roll


Probably the most exciting and unique aspect of Kneel’s publicity machine is the merchandise, designed by Susan and sold through various websites, notably Kneel’s main hub, Kneel’s not just an author; he’s rock n roll! You can buy some very cool t-shirts, mugs, calendars… I can think of no other author whose work is promoted in the same way. Even his fictional rock band, the Phaze Lords, has its own website (, where you can read tributes to the band and information about the albums and tours. As André Breton put it, “the imaginary is what tends to become real.”

I’ll finish by recommending you check Kneel out for yourself. The best place to start is his main Twitter account, @kneeldowne. Say hi and tell him the Bird King sent you.

The Irreal Reader


The Irreal Reader: Fiction & Essays from the Cafe Irreal, edited by GS Evans and Alice Whittenburg (Guide Dog Books, 2013).

The Kafka Effect
Although Franz Kafka died in 1924, having written fiction rooted in his life as a Jew in early Twentieth Century Prague, his influence continues. The nightmarish logic of stories such as The Trial and The Metamorphosis seems to spring from a source common to all humanity, and has made the Kafkaesque an easily identified and understood quality, in need of no further explanation. It is only to be expected, then, that numerous authors not lacking in individuality have nevertheless written in a Kafkaesque vein. The stories of Jacques Sternberg, Roland Topor’s Le locataire chimérique and Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Unconsoled typify a mode of writing, or rather an outlook, that I suspect would have come about anyway at some point in the last century, but which is described as Kafkaesque in recognition of the man who expressed it first.

GS Evans and Alice Whittenburg, editors of the handsome Irreal Reader, make no bones of the fact that the contemporary fiction they describe as “irrealist” belongs to a tradition traceable to Kafka. Borges is acknowledged too, as is Kobo Abe, but of the three Kafka is probably the writer whose work best exemplifies irrealism.

What is Irrealism?
The second section of the book comprises theoretical texts, explaining irrealism. Arguably, the notion of the ism is a quaint one; the Twentieth Century abounded with isms (with attendant theories and manifestos, the academic’s delight), but I wonder if we need a new one now. An ism generalises and divides, and often an author or artist’s idiosyncrasies are overlooked, to accommodate him or her in the school or movement. The fiction in The Irreal Reader is diverse in style and spirit, which perhaps explains the inclusion of the theoretical texts; without them, what would “irrealism” mean to the reader?

In his essay “What is Irrealism?” GS Evans writes:

In an irreal story… not only is the physics underlying the story impossible… but it is also fundamentally and essentially unpredictable… and unexplained.

Evans makes the useful distinction between irreal and fantasy fiction, stating that impossible events in the latter are explicable in terms of the physical laws of the setting. So a man might turn into an insect because of a spell or curse. But in The Metamorphosis there is no physical explanation for Gregor Samsa’s transformation into a dung beetle. Neither is there a metaphysical one; we might interpret the story in terms of castration anxiety or the effects of anti-Semitism, but an allegorical reading will feel inadequate and incomplete. The power of Kafka’s fiction lies in its elegant enigmas. By extension, contemporary irreal fiction is inscrutable and dream-like, taking as its starting point the threshold between the real and the unreal. In Evans’s words, irrealism is “a device that can… reveal and enlighten us in respect to reality (in this case, an absurd and ambiguous one.)”

Irrealism & Surrealism
Comparisons between irrealism and surrealism are inevitable, and it is here that I found the theoretical texts in The Irreal Reader unconvincing. In “Irrealism and the Visual Arts” Garrett Rowlan makes the case that Giorgio de Chirico was a painter who could be considered irrealist because his art depicts real objects in disquieting combinations, creating a sense of mystery. Exactly the same could be said of René Magritte, an artist who identified himself as a surrealist. So what’s the difference between the two isms? In “Irrealism Is Not Surrealism” GS Evans offers a distinction (namely that surrealists are researchers of the unconscious, whereas irrealists are self-conscious artists), but it’s based on a very narrow definition of surrealism, implicit in a statement made by the Group of Czech and Slovak Surrealists in 2002 and deriving ultimately from the theories of André Breton. Although Breton’s pronouncements on surrealism, its aims and practices have been useful to cultural historians, they don’t tell the whole story, and many of surrealism’s most interesting writers (for example, André Pieyre de Mandiargues, Joyce Mansour and Leonora Carrington) don’t count as surrealists at all, if we apply Breton’s famous “pure psychic automatism” definition and assume, as Evans does, that the surrealists were less preoccupied with aesthetics and the activity of creating art than other writers and artists. And what would Evans make of the writings of Marcel Lecomte? My guess is that he’d see the spirit of irrealism in the work of the Belgian surrealist.

In short, I see no evidence that an irrealist text has characteristics that aren’t to be found in the writings of that most disparate of groups, the surrealists.

However, there is one crucial difference between irrealism and surrealism. The former, according to GS Evans, is concerned solely with art, while the latter (I, too, lapse into generalisation) was an attempt to change the world, through revolutions on both a social and a personal level. Surrealism was far more ambitious than irrealism.

So much for isms. Let’s move on.

Short Stories
The anthology’s strength lies in the quality of the short stories and prose poems it contains, some of which are by big names in the world of literature. Collected under the Borgesian heading “Fictions”, several of the pieces show a debt to the great Argentine writer (notably Emilio Martinez’s “News from Burgundia” and Michal Ajvaz’s “The City and Heaven”), but are deftly executed. All of the writers in the anthology deserve a mention, but I’ll touch on just a few, to give a flavour of the book.

Ana María Shua’s miniatures are witty and idiosyncratic, and constitute virtuoso exercises in prose poetry. Peter Cherches is equally impressive, the extracts from “Mr Deadman” recalling Michaux’s “Plume” sequence in their deadpan and often darkly humorous treatment of the unreal; anyone who has read my Bird King poems will not be surprised that as soon as I started reading Cherches I recognised in him a kindred spirit! The wonderful Ewald Murrer is represented too (in extracts from The Diary of Mr Pinke), as are Charles Simic (“Seven Prose Poems”) and (what a discovery!) Richard Kostelanetz, whose vertiginous “Openings” reads like a brilliant parody of an exercise undertaken by a student of creative writing. Kevin Sexton’s intoxicating piece, “The Spindler”, is at once delirious and controlled. Other authors whose work left a particularly strong impression on me were D Harlan Wilson, Lee Williams, Vít Erban and the mischievous Tomáš Pridal.

It would be interesting to know if all of the authors in The Irreal Reader consider themselves irrealists. The variety evident in the book suggests that they are linked by an interest in the unfettered imagination, rather than by a philosophy or programme. Not that it matters; this superb book offers the reader an experience of delightful, disturbing inner worlds, and, at times, sheds fresh light on that domineering but uncertain thing called “reality”. Highly recommended.

You can buy The Irreal Reader here (US) and here (UK). Visit the Cafe Irreal here.