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.
Originally published as a series of tweets.
1. His mouth opens and a red spider crawls out, followed by another one and another one and another one and another one and another one…
2. Her body is no longer her body. It looks exactly as it did before, but it is strange, wrong. She looks at herself in the mirror and weeps.
3. The sound of machinery wakes him. Iron grinding iron, shrill whistles. After a few seconds, it stops. When he sleeps it starts again.
4. The street is quiet. A few cars, people ambling along. A woman crosses the road, pushing a pram. Inside, there is a severed head.
5. Night. A luxury apartment on the 33rd floor. A bed, a man, a woman. The harder they fuck, the more horrible their deaths.
6. A man sits on a stool at a bar. He doesn’t know there is something in his whiskey. The barman knows. All the other customers know.
7. The suburb looks much as it did before, except there are no people and dogs roam free and windows are smashed and the flies are God.
8. They laugh. Life is easy. They’ve never had it so good. An ocean sunset. Meanwhile, in the cabin, a shadow twists and lengthens.
9. Their bodies are placentas, feeding something squalling, ravenous.
10. At school, the children sit quietly at their desks, devising a thousand parricides.
11. The camera was left running, by accident. He reviews the footage. Then he goes into the basement and shoots himself.
12. A spiral staircase leads to a corridor she doesn’t remember. She feels compelled to explore. Water drips from the ceiling.
13. The light is poor and there is smoke, but it looks like a large bird or a man dressed as one, tottering, lurching, shrieking, laughing.
Imagine a chessboard made of an infinite number of squares, in which the pieces are locked in eternal stalemate. The Mannequin is white to the Bird King’s black. Where he is broken, mad, risible, she is perfect, glacial, sinister. She is the mask Lady Macbeth presents to her haunted husband. The Bird King is, in part, me, by which I mean that his nest is somewhere in me, between memory and imagination. Although he is a tyrant, he is also vulnerable and silly. Aren’t we all vulnerable and silly? The Mannequin, on the other hand, is totally alien to me. She seems emotionless and inscrutable. I find her mesmerising and nightmarish. What is she thinking? Like Lady Macbeth, she reveals nothing to me. She tells her secrets only to the night.
The Bird King and the Mannequin do have one thing in common, however, which is that it is impossible to attach to either of them a stable mental image. If we see either of them in their entirety, in the glare of the sun or a spotlight or headlights, what we see is provisional, a brief phase in their constant mutation. Despite this, the essential identity of each of them is fixed. They are both trapped by who they are.
The Mannequin started out as the mannequins, a collective entity appearing in several poems and In the Dark Room. I associated them with the act of writing. Their presence seemed a condition favourable to creativity:
When the mannequins
possess my hands
I tap out little poems on my phone
The index finger
of my tweeting hand
pecks the touchscreen
like a nimble bird
in the kingdom
of their cage
But the hand
holding the phone
is made of fibreglass
(From “The mannequins”)
Now, the mannequins are crystallised into a single being, albeit one comprising thirteen separate anatomical parts. Susan Omand has interpreted in paint the text I wrote for each of those parts. I see the book we made as a result of our collaboration as the flipside of The Madness of the Bird King (illustrated by Diana Probst), or, to put it another way, as a view of something at once alive and inanimate, human and monstrous, that exists on the other side of the mirror.
The outrageously talented Chimera artist Susan Omand and I are making a mannequin, one part at a time. For each part I write a brief text, which I email to Susan, who then interprets it and paints what she imagines.
It won’t surprise those who are familiar with my work that there will be thirteen parts to our mannequin.
The mannequin project will not result in a book; Susan has had an innovative publishing idea which we’ll keep schtum about for now.
Put your ear to my lips. Can you hear the sea? You can only imagine my perfect teeth, my mousetrap tongue. I won’t say a word. Everything is silence, thought, hours stretched tight over polished cheekbones. Don’t mistake it for serenity. In your dream you stumbled across a pair of false teeth, grinning on a shingle beach. No one else was around, so you pocketed it. Bad bad bad. Theft is culpable, even when it’s just imagined. I’ll remind you of that later, when the grandfather clock stirs to mournful life in your hallway. Never eat Shredded Wheat. Can you hear the sea yet?
I prefer being a verb to being a noun. It’s so easy to get stuck otherwise, don’t you think? Butchers think I’m poetic. They grow glassy-eyed over my marble veining. But they don’t appreciate the mundanity of my role, supporting the head, ensuring the state doesn’t totter. Academics consider me a liminal space, the threshold between knowledge and passion, metaphysics and belching. I think of myself as a conduit. The rats know me well.
Texts copyright James Knight. Images copyright Susan Omand. All rights reserved.