The Bird King is mad again

“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. Originally published in 2012, it has just been reissued in a new edition, available here.

In constructing our 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 material 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.

—–

I

The Bird King is mad again.

He caws
through empty midnight streets,
moulting tar-black
feathers.

20121101-225919.jpg

II

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

But the feathers are real, seasonal:

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

20121101-230022.jpg

III

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,
jovial.

His laughter breaks glass,
frightens animals.

He cackles and crackles on his electric throne.

20121101-230103.jpg

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.

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