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Review – Head Traumas by James Knight

Head Traumas

Head TraumasHow to describe the indescribable?

Head Traumas is the new book by James Knight – an eclectic collection of his poetry, lists, artwork, dreams and ideas brought together to fascinate, disturb and literally mess with your mind.

The collection also includes the previously published “Mr Punch Dreams”, a revised and extended version of the “Madness of the Bird King” and, appropriately, thirteen works from his previous book “13”. It is lovely to have all of these previous works finally in one place and accompanied by so much that is new.

The Bird King is a recurring character in a lot of James Knight’s work and he is a real favourite of mine. More than slightly eccentric, he takes himself so seriously and acts so regally but, at the same time, has such ridiculous ideas which he wholeheartedly believes in and does not find funny. Truly mad, he would scowl at me for laughing out loud at some of the poems which feature him like that, such as “Nectar” or “Fart”. But I also love the darker side of his character. There is a point at which the madness stops being quite so funny, the giggles turn to nervous laughter and you stop and wonder. He is a real study of the edge of sanity. Read “Throne” or “Dressing Room”. Quite, quite brilliant.

Another of James’ imaginative creations included in the book is the Oneiroscope, based on his fascination with dreams. It is essentially an interactive Twitter project where, if the Oneiroscope is open, you can tweet three words to it and it will come up with a bespoke dream scenario for you. This collection contains several small excerpts from the “Oneiroscope catalogue”, matched with some of James’ wonderful artwork, as well as an Oneiropoem which combines several people’s requests into a longer work, all of whom are credited at the end of the book.

These are not the only creations in the book though. This is a substantial collection and there is a huge variety of work. Notable poems for me include “Mon”, “Thresholds” and “Mirrors”. I cannot yet read “The Snowmen” because the accompanying pictures freak me out too much, as do the “Moon Faces”.

Don’t be put off by this being described as a “poetry” book. This is unlike any poetry you may have been forced to learn in school, with no rhyme or set rhythm structure. These are very complex, grown up, multi-layered pieces of prose writing presented in deceptively simple but visually stimulating formats. I also found myself reading some of them out loud just to enjoy the sounds of the word combinations and alliterations even more.

Although the poems and passages themselves are relatively short and easily read, the imagery in each is so full-on that each stanza, each sentence, merits time to be taken with it so that it may be fully considered, appreciated and imagined. This is especially true of the themed “lists of thirteen” that appear throughout the book. Each of the items or scenes in the list is brought into being so vividly in your imagination that you can almost hear it and smell it as well as see it in your mind’s eye. My favourite of these is 13 Fragments of a Somniloquy where I can actually follow the burglar through the pipe-covered basement passages and hear the fragments of conversation coming down from above.

As an artist myself I have one small issue with the book. I have seen a lot of James’ artwork, both on Twitter (follow @badbadpoet) and on his website (thebirdking.com) and I really love it. I highly recommend that you go there and view it for yourself because his pictures are totally awe-inspiring – beautiful photographic images combined in such a way as to create foreboding, almost disturbing compositions that settle unnervingly into your imagination and keep you coming back to look again and again. The artwork on the front and back cover of the book gives a small indication of how fantastic it is, in all senses of the word. So I feel that the artwork throughout its pages really deserve to have been put on colour plates too but I know this would have made the book more expensive to buy. The colours and tonal clashes James plays with in creating his compositions really add to the unsettling fascination of these works and this I felt that this was lost in some of the images with the low-contrast monochrome printing.

So Bravo to the Bird King and much praise to the creative genius of James Knight. The Head Traumas title is certainly very well chosen because this book really did mess with my mind in a wonderfully intoxicating way. I am addicted. You must read it.

4 1/2 STARS


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