I have published a new collection of poems, prose-poems, fiction and assorted oddities. The book gathers together writings produced over nearly three years, and I consider it the sequel to Head Traumas, which is my best-selling book so far. Like Head Traumas, the new one contains several 13s and poems about the Bird King. It also includes a lot of material about mannequins (as you’d expect!) and pieces inspired by Graeco-Roman, Norse and Biblical mythology. The tone ranges from the whimsical to the nightmarish.
“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.
The Bird King is mad again.
through empty midnight streets,
The Bird King’s wings:
cobbled together from wire,
But the feathers are real, seasonal:
Spring: urinous, downy.
Summer: purples, scarlets.
Autumn: rust-tinged greys.
Winter: a widow’s fan.
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,
His laughter breaks glass,
He cackles and crackles on his electric throne.
Copies of the book can be purchased 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.
The Bird King’s advisors and ministers are a range of rusty kitchen utensils. They all observe a respectful silence in his presence.
Contrary to popular belief, the Bird King is not an atheist. His meathook priests do their rounds at twilight.
The Bird King’s suits sit in a windowless office, operating the free market through a system of levers, sewers, testosterone and windup toys.
The Bird King’s secret police are mosquitos. When you’re asleep they suck dreams from your veins, for analysis at the Ministry of Desire.
The Bird King considers the dangers associated with conflagrations grossly exaggerated by those with a vested interest in spreading fear. Consequently, his fire brigade comprises a blind old man, two goldfish and a gadfly.
Although he lacks the patience required to tolerate most entertainment, the Bird King is nevertheless a fan of the Carnival of Monkeys, whose shrieking parade is commissioned to process through his palace every Christmas Day.
New ideas terrify the Bird King. He deploys an army of postmodernists to tame them and remove the stings from their tails.
The Bird King employs chimps, scarecrows, effigies of Christ, lobsters, armadillos, sausages and rocking chairs as his domestic staff. They don’t perform their duties well; the Lord High Executioner (a faulty toaster) is frequently called upon to remove them from the payroll.
The Bird King hires mannequins only as librarians, bar staff and assassins. He doesn’t trust them sufficiently to employ them in his home.
As for the most coveted posts, the Bird King usually grants them to Shakespearean characters. His Prime Minister is Macbeth. His head chef: Titus Andronicus. His Lord of Misrule, meanwhile, is King Lear. Ophelia is his gardener. Malvolio has the honour of running the Bird King’s private playground, a reconstructed Bedlam.
The Bird King has fallen in love
with a radiator.
her pockmarked skin,
her neurotic arias,
her impulsive warmth.
Tiring of his dalliance with the radiator,
the Bird King woos an armchair.
She’s amply upholstered
and groans dreamily
when he sits on her.
Now the Bird King is dating
a pair of curtains.
He strokes her yielding folds,
gently opens her.
But already he’s eyeing up the blinds.
The Bird King’s amorous capriciousness
reaches delirious heights.
In one week he makes love to
a pet shop
a fruit bowl
a political rally
a heart condition
half a dozen eggs
a swimming pool
an illegal transaction
a cancelled West End show
five heads of state
and a mirror.
This piece was originally part of my long poem, The Death of the Bird King. I have added new lines to part four.