Friday, March 14, 2014
Poet Bill Knott
I've always loved many of the poems in The Naomi Poems, the deep blue sensuality and delicacy of his love poems, the sharp acrimony of his politically explicit poems. In Knott's later books, he experimented in other directions with his poems, and I didn't always feel drawn to his later work.
I didn't know much about Knott's life, and more or less lost touch with his work for a number of years. Over time he apparently came to feel cynicism and rancor about the inward-looking office politics of the literary publishing world in the United States, and in recent years he stopped searching for publishers for his books of poems, in some cases refused offers to bring earlier books of his back into print, and at one point he started publishing his poem old and new on an online blog and making his work available for free.
In one interview, Knott discussed in detail his reasons for considering himself to have failed as a poet, or at any rate to have failed at a career in the the world of literary awards and contests and other sorts of literary competition. He did in fact receive several major literary awards and grants over the years, and he taught for more than 25 years at Emerson College. There were many other poets and professors his age and younger, of weaker ability as poets, who received greater literary and career acclaim much earlier in their lives.
A good interview with Bill Knott, from sometime around 2004, is in the online literary magazine Memorious, here.
An insightful article by John Cotter on Bill Knott's poetry is in the website of the Poetry Foundation (affiliated with Poetry magazine in Chicago), here.
A obituary for Bill Knott, along with four of his poems, is in the online magazine Open Letters Monthly, here.
Thanks to poet blogger Elisa Gabbert, in whose blog The French Exit I found each of the above weblinks.
Here are four short poems by Bill Knott that I've always liked, from The Naomi Poems, Book One: Corpse and Beans.
If you are still alive when you read this,
close your eyes. I am
under their lids, growing black.
Going to sleep, I cross my hands on my chest.
They will place my hands like this.
It will look as though I am flying into myself.
Retort to Pasternak
The centuries like barges have floated
out of the darkness, to communism: not to be judged,
but to be unloaded.
Let the dead bury the dead:
it is said. But I say it is we living
who have been shoved underground, who must now rise up
to bury the dead, the Johnsons, Francos, Fords and McNamaras.
The technocrat gloats
at his remote desk
but just to show
he's still human
he still does a few
chores by hand
and adds a human
touch for example
rather than having
his computers do it
he himself stamps
all by himself
stamps PAID on