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Bill Knott Celebrated at Jacket Copy

By Harriet Staff


For Jacket Copy, Craig Morgan Teicher reveals one of his favorite moments in Bill Knott’s writing, newly collected in I Am Fying Into Myself (ed. Thomas Lux), and one of his favorite Knott poems, fiendishly absent from the collection. Along the way, Teicher teaches us about Knott’s life experiences, which lead to such startlingly original verse. He writes, “This unruliness was very much self-created. Knott, who was an orphan and spent some time in a mental institution as a teen, published his first book, ‘The Naomi Poems,’ in 1968 under the pseudonym of St. Geraud, whom the flap copy claimed was dead.” More:

From there, he went on to publish many books with many publishers, became a longtime and legendary teacher at Emerson College, maintained devoted friendships with many great writers — including Mary Karr, Charles Simic and Thomas Lux, the editor of this volume, who died suddenly on Feb. 5 — and confounded the poetry establishment again and again.

Though he was beloved by friends and students, bitterness was his default mode in correspondence and in his poetry — in the self-published books he would mail to anyone who wrote him in the last decade of his life, he’d print collages of his rejection letters from poetry magazines. But his poems, mischievous, riddling, often hilarious, and wise, found surprising ways to transcend his bitterness and self-hatred, making them unlike anything else.

Which brings me back to my favorite poem, which, if you’ll permit me, I’ll use to explain why I’ve been a devoted fan of Knott’s for decades. Here it is in full:

“At the Crossroads”

The wind blows a sheet of paper to my feet.

I pick it up.

It is not a petition for my death.

This is quintessential Knott, a tiny poem with a twist ending that opens out into boundless insight about the human condition.

Read on at Jacket Copy.

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Posted in Poetry News on Tuesday, February 14th, 2017 by Harriet Staff.