Interview with James Knight by Tom Bland

INTERVIEW WITH JAMES KNIGHT




I discovered James Knight after setting up a Twitter account, something I swore I’d never do, but ended up doing anyway, and was immediately struck by the correlation between image and language which rides throughout his work. He draws heavily on the surrealist tradition(s) but he experiments freely through his imagination and technology. He has numerous books out including his most recent Chimera which is sure to blow your mind. 


Your new book, Chimera, has recently come out. How did this work come about?

 

I’ve long been interested in aberrant zooology, both the horrifying kind explored in weird fiction by the likes of Lovecraft and the more ambiguous impossible animals we find in the work of Michaux and the Surrealists. I’m also fascinated by evolutionary biology, particularly as it is explained by Richard Dawkins. In The Blind Watchmaker Dawkins uses simple computer-generated biomorphs to illustrate cumulative selection, images that have lingered in the back of my mind for years. Chimera came about quite organically as I was experimenting with imagery for some visual poems in a series called “Monster”, and found myself making strange biomorphs, which I later put into a sequence suggestive of evolutionary development. I added textual elements too (random cut-ups from Bram Stoker’s The Lair of the White Worm and Wikipedia entries on zoology), which were then processed in various ways so that the words and letters fragmented, inverted or became illegible, mutating with the same violence as the pictorial elements of the visual poems.


 

How do you understand surrealism and its importance to you?

 

Surrealism was a loosely formalised manifestation of the subversive power of the human imagination, something that has existed for as long as we have. I was exposed to surrealist art and literature from a very young age, thanks to my dad’s interest in the movement and some books of his that I pored over. As a kid I saw no difference between surrealist art and illustrated books of Greek myths and the like. Surrealism has always seemed completely natural and obvious to me: why wouldn’t you explore your dream life? However, surrealism as a movement failed in a number of ways, not least in its petty rules and prohibitions, all of which put limits on mental and social activity.


Click on the image to read
  

In your novel, Mono, there is a contrast or juxtaposition between image and text. I wonder if you expand on the relation and the distance between them?

 

Mono started off as a series of monochrome images. Each miniature chapter was written as a free response to one of them. The pictures gave me a starting point, but the words took me somewhere else and started telling their own story. I like strong contrasts, the jolt produced by a picture and a text that don’t marry: the space between the two becomes a playground for the reader.

 

Transgression is an essential part of your work and I wonder what is essential in this for your practice?

 

For me, art’s chief value is its voicing of the unspeakable. We can say things through art that cannot be said in any other context without the risk of censure or ridicule. And it’s really important that we do say those things, otherwise we’re alone with them.

  

Who is Breton to you?

 

Breton’s poetry has had a huge impact on me, in lots of ways. The poems in his collection Le revolver à cheveux blancs (The White-Haired Revolver) are masterpieces of paranoiac-critical delirium, terrifying seductions. That’s the Breton I love. I’m much less interested in his theoretical writings, which strike me as meretricious; take the first Surrealist Manifesto, for instance, in which he manages to say so little! You can boil the whole thing down to a paragraph or two.


 

What role does ritual play in your work? Not only your writing practice but also in terms of mask and performance.

 

Every time I make a picture or a poem or whatever, I’m wearing a mask. James Knight doesn’t exist: he’s a persona. And the Bird King is a persona within that persona. I have to put on the mask to access the part of myself that otherwise would have no outlet, no means of expression. The voices speak through the mask. I’m fairly passive in all this until I have a body of material, and then another part of me looks at the material critically, and the editing process begins. And from time to time the mask is not figurative: I have a hideous latex horror bird mask, which enables me to channel the Bird King and become him in live performance and film poems. It’s difficult to breathe inside the mask, and the heat is almost unbearable! So naturally it is perfect.  


Three fav books...

 

I’ll go with my gut and say Alain Robbe-Grillet’s nightmarishly labyrinthine Souvenirs du triangle d'or (Recollections of the Golden Triangle), Jindřich Štyrský’s gorgeous and unsettling Dreamverse, and Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are.



How do you see the importance of dreams to your work?

Dreams are important to me because they represent mental processes over which we exercise no conscious control (unless we are adept at lucid dreaming). The things I experience in a dream state are no less important to me than my waking life. Dreams can linger and colour our feelings the following day. Above all, dreams strip us of our social selves, our pretensions, our carefully constructed identities and value systems, and reduce us to the animals we are, prey to fear and desire. Much of my poetry and artwork taps into my dream life because I consider it key to who I really am.

What are you working on now?

 

I’m reworking some unpublished poems from a series called Cosmic Horror, and remixing/wrecking some of my visual poems. Some of my best visual poems are the ones that have gone from to all wrong.





GOOD BYE by Godefroy Dronsart

GOOD BYE

 

                     to all of you, dog-headed worshippers

of empty gender geometry, good bye

 

                                       to your dead magic,

 

dry and sinuous

                      like intestines hanging

                                                         on a

                                                                suburban laundry line

 

goodbye to you ailing fuck gurus 

                                               you who harbour

 

                            abuse under

                                         your ceremonial robes I hope

 

                                                                                  you burn

 

I am out now, a dagger darted

                                             towards the schoolmen, a plague

 

              upon eternity peddlers, you who hold your static rods

with such urgency,

 

                                 I am out

                                                 a moon saving its own orbit

 

my own my own my own

                                                metamorphosis



Godefroy Dronsart
is a writer, teacher and musician currently residing near Paris. His poetry has appeared in Lunar Poetry, PostBLANK, Paris Lit Up and The Belleville Park Pages among others. His first chapbook The Manual was published earlier this year by Sweat Drenched Press and explores the space between poetry, prose and gamebooks. 


@OzoneGrass on Twitter


Godefroy’s book

The 3 Steps of Successful Writing by Richard Capener

 THE 3 STEPS OF SUCCESSFUL WRITING


  1. Maybe you like implosion, causing the building to collapse on itself. Maybe you have explosive charges and the sequence of detonation. No matter what, you can always put one hand between the light and the wall so you can clearly see the shadow. For example, analyse a complete set of structural blueprints to identify the main components. Understanding helps you tailor your approach. Then, simply by changing the shape of your hands, make animals, birds and other characters come to life.

  2. Read a breadth of authors, genres and writing reaching a height of more than 66 feet. This method helps you by moving your hands closer and further away from the light to create special effects. Don’t limit yourself to one specific genre, such as crusher, shears or marketing materials. Familiarise yourself with as many large pieces of structure as possible. Unfortunately, there isn’t an easy way to make a dog talk so you’ll have to use “body language”.

  3. Before you start, grab a sheet of construction paper or cardboard (whatever you use, it should be thick enough that light doesn’t shine through). You can draw the outline of zombie-mummy romances, crushing the building with repeated blows. Draw eyes or smiles so these details will appear in the shadow. Assuming no diffraction, considerations are taken into account in determining how the building is undermined and ultimately demolished.



Richard Capener currently lives and works in Bristol. His writing has been featured in Sublinary Editions' Subscriptions, Streetcake, and the Crested Tit Collective's Rewilding: An Ecopoetic Anthology, among others. He also edits The Babel Tower Notice Board.

CRUELTY IS LIKE LIPSTICK by Tom Bland

CRUELTY IS LIKE LIPSTICK


Standing on the stage at The Royal Vauxhall Tavern,

I was a third of the way into my monologue as 


my eyes stared 

at the confused cabaret 

audience who were expecting 

comedy/dance/physical-theatre/lip-sync. 

I was in a white

PVC nurse’s outfit from Honour in Waterloo. 

I already knew I was way too much for their minds. 

I was seeking to disrupt the neurological

patterns/opening their minds 

to anything other than the inane products to be bought on a plastic card.


But they hated the idea of their thinking being 

gripped/

shaken/broken by a cosmological cruelty, all looking at me/all 

looking at the bar 

for 

this to be over, 


for me to be over,


for me to stop reciting 

Burroughs as if The Western Lands was 

the eternal 

gospel of thanatos

every fucker needed to hear,


Instead of trying to keep the patient alive, we will

keep his Death alive. If 

he can become Death, he cannot die.” 

The audience's confusion grew as they skimmed Instagram and Grindr, 

chatting, paying no attention 

to my 

absurd gestures and expressions of anguish: 

utterly unable to engage in my discourse, 


like those 

faces of 

my youth trying to make out my gargled words or giving up 

mouthing the word 


“retard” 


at me.


I moved into free association on my true icon,


“This is Artaud’s 

The Theatre of

Cruelty: 

a virus

breaking down the 

network

of being, destroying

thinking/naming. I AM NO ONE. Artaud divided 

cruelty 

into

the material and the spiritual; 

he hated physical 

pain, the concrete prison

of the asylum, 


the electric shots to his brain,

the insulin injections, the sheet torture, 

but the ethereal

mouth he loved, screaming inside his fucked up mind

realised 

in Samuel Beckett’s

Not I, where the mouth said, whole body

like gone, leaving only the death 

incarnate; the mouth’s cruelty

to speak/scream/thunder; 

the demon 

replicating demons, making

the bodily cells…” 


And then an audience member shouted out,


“DEMONIC,”

laughing at his own ability 

to imagine 

the end,

but the virus had no end game: 


it 

just 

consumed 

without 

destiny.



Tom Bland is the editor of Spontaneous Poetics and has written two books, The Death of a Clown (Bad Betty Press 2018) and the soon to be released Camp Fear (Bad Betty Press 2021).

The Death of a Clown

SODOM after Verlaine by Niall McDevitt

SODOM

after Verlaine



this melancholy's too much. I'm alone, adventure over.

an illegal feeling eats inward. the climax is deathly.


I sense - like a mouse in a laboratory - science's scalpel 


and observe with soft-focus eyes my lifeblood drained.


London billows, London shrieks, a city from the Bible.


the gas-lamps flame and shimmer, road-signs redden


and crumbling slums 


                                    echo seismic pressures


looking weird as covens of toothless, fossilised crones.


ugly flashbacks lunge with spitting and hissing of cats


in the filthy pink-yellow fogs of this Soho vice-zone


where street-slang cuffs your ear as a penance for sins.


I'm upto my eyeballs in decay, a shabby martyrdom. 


in the dust of my window, it's written: the bottom falls 


out of the sky where fire rampages 


                                                          in this biblical city-state



Drawing of Niall McDevitt by Julie Goldsmith


Niall McDevitt is the author of three collections of poetry, b/w (Waterloo Press, 2010), Porterloo (International Times, 2013) and Firing Slits, Jerusalem Colportage (New River Press, 2016). He is also known for his poetopographical walks such as The William Blake Walk, An Arthur Rimbaud Drift, and many others. His latest book BABYLON (a neoliberal theodicy) is forthcoming from New River Press.