Riding in the car with me on the way to the radio station a couple of weeks ago Owen said to me, “A Bard should have a beard,” when I asked him about the blurb on the back of his book Rules of the Game that said he is a poet who “walks the ancient path of the Bard.” Owen of course doesn’t have a beard. In the gentle way that an Elder can speak to someone younger who is also on the path, he also talked about, to paraphrase the oral transmission, that he couldn’t call himself a Bard “because a Bard would know far more than me”. This was humbling for a fired up youngster like me to hear. The emphasis, as I think about it these many weeks later, is that he walks the Bardic Path, aspiring to be as Bard…and yet he hasn’t given himself that title. And this from someone who has written two books of a projected seven in an Arthuian cycle. In addition to the six books he’s already had released through Black Moon Publishing and his own imprint Skip and Run. In addition to all the music he’s helped create with Bitter Blood Street Theater, Blacklight Braille. It was his time in these bands, and other reminiscences, as well as thoughts and opinions, that are collected up in Rules of the Game.
Another time Owen told me the reason he shaves is to remain attractive to the ladies. He doesn’t think young girls like all that facial hair too much. I must say I’ve never been one to have much of a beard myself. I’m not a hairy guy. Except for what’s growing out of the top of my skull… that is down to my shoulders right about now. But I guess I distinguish between having long hair and being hairy. Still, no beard and I guess that might mean that I too walk the Bardic Path … without quite being a Bard. It’s something I am in aspiration towards as well. (Robert Graves famously wrote of the distinction between regular poets and the true Muse Poets -servants of the Goddess. Maybe by shaving Owen keeps himself attractive to the Muse…and therefore still open to inspiration in his later years.)
I’m reading James M. Cain‘s, The Moth, right now. I love it. It’s the best book I’ve read in quite awhile. Owen told me once how his father had known James M. Cain, and how he himself liked his books. With The Moth being so much about the love of a man for women, I can see why Owen liked this writer so much. Cain does have a literary style that draws you in to the life of the character: a Bildungsroman. The moral and ethical aspects of the novel also draw parallels to Graham Greene‘s work. Cain was originally from Maryland just like Owen.
In some cases Knight’s style is similar to the work of Cain. Especially Owen’s short fiction collected in Waterford and Nearby Towns. On first getting inside some of these tales you get the feeling that they are strictly realist -and they are for those of us with a pantheistic or polytheistic world view. That is to say they are imbued with Magic, and what Arthur Machen called “The Inmost Light“. Yet he shows the Magic arising from so called “everyday situations”. This book also features a lovely color plate from Belgian artist Martine Khadr-Van Schoote.
My favorite book of Owen’s is the short Wind Over Linden Hill: Biography of a Pagan. It goes into some of Owen’s earliest memories of life on a Maryland farm gradually transforming into a dream. This dream, he told me later, became a recurring one, an important dream. A big dream. In it he also writes of being a servant of the Goddess Danu.
On the more epic scale is his long novel The Draug -reproduced as a 915 page facsimile of his hand written text and notes detailing the setting and the large cast of characters. A Draug, as I first heard of it referenced in article on the Sea Trow of Scottish (Orkney Islands) lore. The Norse and Scandinavian conception of the Draug is that of an undead creature haunting graves. A distinction is generally made between a land Draug and a sea Draug. In the case of Mr. Knight’s novel it is definitely a land Draug. The story concerns a class of anthropology students who leave their college to do some field work, and how they get taken by a group of Amazons into a subterranean and Chthonic realm. The things that live there have grown pale and albino-white from their lack of exposure to sunlight.
Owen, besides being a fine saw player is also a fine poet. His poetry -infused with strains of his Norse and Druidic polytheism, is also shaded by his time as a musician in the counterculture of the late 60’s on through the 70’s and beyond. Owen has long immersed himself in the Bardic tradition, and poems like “The Moon to Poolesville” are cast in a lunar glow. His poetry and lyrics are collected in Moonlight Snow.
Owen has also tried his hand at the detective novel in Harry Powell, Detective. It’s not a typical sleuth mystery. In fact, it has more in common with the “transgressive” works of Samuel R. Delany, like Hogg for instance, than with Conan Doyle. It shouldn’t be a surprise that Owen is a fan of the work of the late J. G. Ballard.
Thomas Howerton Owen Knight is a treasure in Cincinnati’s underground, pagan, artistic, or otherwise. I cannot say for certain how his work has been received in the wider magical and occult communities, let alone the literary, so will not speculate here. I do know this. The time is ripe to acquaint or reacquaint yourself with his singular style and impressive body of work.