A word monster

My contribution to book 14 of the wonderful Transformations project (a reworking of Ovid’s Metamorphoses) is a response to the myth of Scylla, a beautiful nymph transformed into a monster.

The trope of the sexually desirable female who becomes an object of horror is well-worn, and I’m fascinated by it. Medusa exemplifies it perfectly. A good example in sci-fi is the Species film series, in which an entity that is a splice of a horrifying alien and a human adopts the form of a sexy young woman, whose sole purpose is speedy reproduction with a suitably healthy (human) mate.

My Scylla poem is an old-fashioned cut-up text. I chose source texts that leant themselves to Freudian interpretations of the monstrous feminine (to borrow Barbara Creed’s phrase): two excerpts from Bram Stoker’s The Lair of the White Worm, part of a public domain prose translation of book 14 of Ovid’s Metamorphoses and the stunningly grotesque description of Sin (daughter and lover of Satan, mother of Death) in Paradise Lost. Assembly of my poem was easy; anyone could have done it. I simply pasted the source texts into an online cut-up machine, then copied the resultant text into a Pages document on my iPad. Finally, I inserted line breaks where they seemed appropriate (making free verse out of prose), eliminated punctuation and began each stanza with a capital letter, but didn’t in any other way tamper with what the cut-up machine produced. The process generated some striking phrases and a serendipitous juxtaposition of the words “fair” and “foul”, which sums up the concept behind the poem, as well as bringing to mind Shakespeare’s monstrous females, the witches in Macbeth.

Like Scylla herself, my poem is a tormented mess. Broken grammar and semantic ambiguity mirror Scylla’s horrified amazement at her own transmogrification. I’m usually a slave to grammar; in this instance it was refreshing to watch it being wrecked.



She movement

wading moments

was as waist some forced clad of deep mountainous up in waving into mass to some gently of the kind to pool flesh top and only surged amid soft up a white

Before find through mass stuff
of which gates
water narrow blood
clung there around
orifice and close sat

On her as slime to either groin though
and her side erupt forced what form
with yelping shape monsters

The at power
thinking opening
the infinite entrails
the part smaller of sinuous waste
of a figure and
itself monster

She fair
foul shreds close-fitting in retreats fragments

fur and fears
white enormous skin bulk dazzling
as were white serpent pushes of forced coiled arm’d

With seeking into colour wide
her gigantic larger dazzled Cerberian thighs
lizard space
when mouths her
or disclosed the full legs
serpent sections sun

her hideous voice
peal lull Adam
when jaws pause

Sir Cerberus’s seething had and would

She contents seen sweet creep stands of looking
If the raging hole
the soft disturb’d dogs
rose trees dominant
note her by eyes
womb beasts

And below bubbling emerald-green sibilation kennel
the spring flickering her surface and like hands yet from Adam great too
there which saw lamps were still her part
long bark’d truncated
of a flexible and thighs the gale white howl’d

Within and thin with unseen belly form a

Scylla emerge of strange comes


If you’re interested in the myth of Scylla and its modern relevance, I can’t recommend highly enough Mina Polen’s book, Scylla & Charybdis.


13 broken pieces of id


The leaders took their seats, and the common


       scowled and shook his fist.



         to do battle with him.


exulting in               bloodshed and slaughter.



         consider the good of the state.

    consider the killing


those who had participated in the robbery under his leadership



       we fought in the field

           digging a trench round their fortifications,

    deceived by a dream


attack the leaders with               words



           my words.



          and killed








         beneath the city walls




        these weapons

  you need me to direct your thinking


      I am superior to you



The blade



      unhappy wife
   lost even her

            was in flames

women embraced the                statues



              dragged her



The girl
            was snatched

         she did not forget herself
     his eyes fixed on her face



My only wish is that my death could be concealed from





         give back my body

             the knife





    she made her way to the shore





             the sea






body, washed up on the beach



     smooth          words

         captive women


uttered barks instead of words.





  poor queen



           black smoke darkened


     black ash





    beaks and hooked claws




 he saw me, lying with



sea lay        before her



      waters churned over my head



I found myself



This erasure poem was made from a translation of book 13 of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. It recently appeared as part of the Transformations project. Copyright James Knight. All rights reserved. 

Orpheus: prime cut

This piece is part of a work-in-progress, a long poem based on the myth of Orpheus. Its subject is the death of the poet. A slightly different version of the poem appeared recently as part of Transformations.


Prime cut


I don’t like it when they leave the heads on.
I mean it’s not nice, is it.

The idyllic order of the abattoir.
Mary is on stunning and bleeding.
She prefers evisceration.
Still, the work’s ok
and it’s her day off tomorrow.

Deft hands perform their daily ballet.

Mary had a little lamb. LOL

Pink eyes,
white walkways.

From somewhere else,
in the heart of the building:
a man’s voice

We listened for a bit.
He had quite a good voice.
Then Linda gave us one of her looks
and we got back to work.



The first victims were the countless birds,
spellbound by the voice of the singer.

pull him apart

chump chop scrap saddle

You’ll notice
there are several conveyor belts,
each carrying a different cut

pink hands
white overalls
a whistled tune

bleached skin
makes bloodless poetry

The trees shed their leaves and,
with bared heads,
mourned his loss.



meaty cut
from the lower end
of the leg

full of flavour
fall from the bone
forgotten cut

yields a generous amount of meat
will feed very generously
stripping the cooked meat from the bone
and stewing it in its cooking juices

stretch it further

they lick their fingers
and belch him



the horizon a bloody bandage

the snake god
the god of clean death
passes in a skull on wheels
whiter than white

humming a dimly remembered tune

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.


this knotted darkness

trace the wall
with your hand

I can hear the bellows
of your lungs
I can smell you

there’s a murderous logic
at work here
a system

I’m trying not to cry
trying to hold onto
images and words

someone sharpens a knife

the half moon is a sail
pulling cloud boats
across the night
or so I imagine

you were saying?

I think
I lost the thread


This poem was written for Transformations, a new take on Ovid’s Metamorphoses.