Bird King

Ventriloquism

Ventriloquists terrify
the Bird King.

He fears he may be
a dummy.

If so,
who’s jerking his head
and wings about?

And whose voice is that?

(From Head Traumas)

 

The inspiration for the Bird King (an ambiguous creature, part man, part bird), came from numerous sources, most of which I was unconscious of when I wrote my first Bird King tweet on 6 April 2012:

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

As a child I loved Greek mythology, which abounds with hybrids of humans and animals, including, of course, the harpies. Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are depicted an anthropomorphic bird, whose virile crest and association with Max (the King of the Wild Things) made a strong impression. When I was a teenager I discovered surrealism and was intrigued by Max Ernst’s Loplop persona, and the way the artist used it to create an ironic distance between himself and his work (Loplop presents…)

I could enumerate various stylistic influences on the Bird King tweets and poems too. There’s a trace of the Ted Hughes of Crow in some of the gorier passages, and I suspect that Henri Michaux (who wrote about terrifying inner worlds with deadpan bluntness) is there too. Harry Crosby, a minor poet enamoured of Baudelaire, wrote some surrealistic pieces about a Mad Queen, and there’s no doubt that the bringing together of the notion of lunacy with that of inherited power is a very potent one, and must have been somewhere at the back of my mind when I wrote that first tweet. Meanwhile, Thomas Kyd (via T S Eliot) was very much at the front of my mind when I wrote it: “The Bird King is mad again” was a conscious echo of “Hieronymo’s mad againe.”

—–

Here are the first three sections of my poem, The Madness of the Bird King, originally published with beautiful watercolour illustrations by Diana Probst.


I

The Bird King is mad again.

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


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.


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.

 

The full poem, with Diana’s paintings, can be purchased here. A revised, expanded version was published in Head Traumas

***

 

RIP, Bird King

The Bird King is dead.

What was he?

He was a vampire shrinking from empty mirrors wiping blood from black bristles burnt feathers

He was a giant maggot oozing in a throne a toilet his excremental seat of power the chair a shocking sight the chair killing him frying in the chair’s blue embrace

He was a fool telling impossible stories unable to cope with the simplest of things doors shops television conversation memory crisps road markings the silly billy

He was a poet who hated poets

He was a fop in flamboyant attire a right pretty boy pretty polly strutting peacock decorating himself for outrageous displays of virility look at me look at me preening in a blaze of feathers and fabrics

He was a tyrant a dictator a bird-brained autocrat

He was a monster a man an animal

He was a poor little thing quivering with desires longings despair

He was a sadistic experimenter hatching bad machines bad babies bad dreams sending them out to harrow the world make it a hell a mirror to the hell in his head

He was a hapless nobody an Everyman fumbling in the dark stumbling tripping over obstacles bananas words

He was a daddy a mummy a creator a maker a broken god

He was none of the above

Now he’s nothing

The Bird King is dead

***

(From Head Traumas)

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