Book - the mannequins are more real than you

Susan Omand gambles with what's left of her sanity and reads the latest book from James Knight, the mannequins are more real than you...

"Sometimes the mannequins get behind my eyes 

I feel them tugging the strings
 of my nerves 
playing with my mechanisms 

They make themselves at home in the lumber room of my skull...” 

There is always some initial trepidation for me when opening a new James Knight book. Not about whether or not I will enjoy the writing, because I almost always do, but there’s always a slight sense of anticipation mixed with fear, like stepping onto a fairground ride, as to which highly disturbing image he will implant in my imagination that I can’t get rid of for days afterwards. Because I know there will be.

The first thing I was surprised at has nothing to do with the writing itself. The book, at 128 pages, is a LOT bigger than I expected it to be, given that James, as he does, just insidiously snuck it onto the market with little fanfare. Delving into the poetry and prose, because this time there are both, there are old frenemies and new to discover within the pages. Even the contents page starts to conjure images. I mean, how can you NOT want to read something called “13 circles of Hell hidden from Dante but revealed to the Bird King is a series of hallucinations caused by medicine for a urinary tract infection”? Which brings me to my next excitement – my favourite avian monarch is back! I have worshipped at the malformed claws of the Bird King ever since our first encounters way back in the mists of Head Traumas and before, when the King was but an egg, and he holds court over several entries in this book, invading several others and leaving noticeably odorous deposits as he goes. He’s wonderful. Also nice to see the return of Mon and I’m very VERY pleased that the wonderfully evocative poetry of Anatomy of a Mannequin, for which I was lucky enough to do the illustrations when it was released as its own little book last year, is getting another outing here as these verses deserve to be read far more widely.

So much for the devils I know, what of those I don’t? There is a heady mix of poetry and prose, dreams and nightmares in the book and, in several cases, the layout of the words is almost as important as the words themselves, making this a very visual book even though, this time, there is none of James’ wonderful artwork included among the pages. The spacing of the words in, for example, Zero, adds to the feeling of void and vacuum suggested by the verse itself. Similarly with the punctuation, every dot, every comma is considered part of the work, not just breathing space. The prose poem Painting, for example, has 2 sentences. The first is 7 words long, the second, one and a half pages. This blows my grammatical little mind and makes me appreciate even more, were that possible, James Knight’s command of the language. Before I move on though, I feel I must mention the Alice in Hell verses. New and different but, to me, distinctly familiar as the rhythm and cadence reminded me very much of a certain red haired girl of another author friend of ours. A brother perhaps?

Anyway, if you ask me to pick a favourite out of this book, there are two that I’ve gone back to more often than others. The first is called "13 enigmatic scenes from a TV murder mystery everyone has seen but no one has made", which contains verbal vignettes so vivid the words paint the surreal scenes like snapshots or dioramas in my head. The second is a short poem called The past, which I will leave below for your consideration. Read this book. Your brain will thank you.

The past

The Bird King’s memories
     every day.

                The past
      is a city

  forever under construction.

Image - James Knight

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