Bill Knott, one of my favorite living poets, is no longer living.
Bill Knott was one of my poetry idols, my model of a political poet, critical poet, contrarian poet, anti-establishment poet, anti-poet.
His poems changed my ideas of what poetry is and can be. They really did. I remember sitting in an IKEA chair in my hovel of an overheated Beacon Hill apartment in August of 2002, reading The Quicken Tree and thinking HOLY SHIT! In particular, the potato soup poem blew my mind. It is not a serious poem, and so it is a very serious poem.
He lived his life as performance art. Life as tragicomedy.
Bill Knott led my first workshop in grad school, at Emerson College in Boston, MA. In some ways he was a wonderful teacher. In some ways he was a terrible teacher. Recently I was asked to share the best and worst writing advice I'd ever gotten, and I attributed both to Bill Knott. I remember him making students cry, telling them he didn't understand what they were doing or why or that they weren't real poets. A student told him he was reading Lorca and Bill just shook his head. His sweaters always had holes in them. One day he offered me $5 for one of my poems.
I wish he could have known how much he meant to me. I was afraid to let him know, because he distrusted admiration. His grand act was "I'm unappreciated," but he deflected appreciation.
How does it feel to have The Unsubscriber brought out by Farrar, Straus and Giroux?
Many sensitive souls in my line of business hold similar views: we actually prefer to work in low-budget independent films -- that's where the challenging roles are, that's where one can really grow as an artist, and that's why we're always appearing in big-studio blockbusters. But honest I TRIED to get Pitt and Iowa and Rat Vomit Review and Dan Halpern's National Poetry Series and all those other places to publish my book. I entered all their annual contests, or all the ones I could afford. But after their rejections, there was no recourse. I had to lower my hopes and eat crow. None of them would publish it, so I was forced to go with FSG.
That's from this Bookslut interview from 2005. Please, please read the whole thing. It's wonderful. So is this interview from Memorious. So is John's recent profile of Bill Knott at the Poetry Foundation. (John took a poetry class with Bill at Emerson as an undergrad; he made him want to be a poet.) (We talked about how much we loved him the night we met.)
I think everyone is still hoping it's a hoax. I hope it is. He's done it once before.
I will add more relevant links as they come to me. Love to my Emerson friends who also loved Bill, and love to my poet friends who are still alive.
Read the obit and four poems at Open Letters Monthly.
Read the memorial at Coldfront.
Read the Emerson story, which includes lovely quotes from colleagues/friends including John Skoyles and Tom Lux.