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May 3rd, 2011 / 4:36 am
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Bill Knott Week: An Anecdote from Steven Breyak

"quote from Pasternak (if the poet's chair is not empty, beware)," Bill Knott, 2009 (media unknown)

Steven Breyak lives in Osaka, Japan. He writes:

Late in the summer of 2006, I had finished my MFA and was drained from it. With the last of my thesis off to the printers and no agents or potential employers calling, a long empty future seemed to lay before me and my art; it had seemed that we’d lost purpose for each other and it was best I consider a career change to reader. Then Bill Knott asked me if I would rent a car in Boston and drive out to the Poconos to pick him up along with a few of his belongings. In a desperate attempt to establish myself in some medium, I decided to buy some professional recording equipment (on credit) and interview Bill on the drive east. I dreamed of hearing our voices on an NPR show fading out to some indie rock sample.
Bill and I packed his few remaining boxes into the car, a photo and goodbye with the neighbors and we were off. As soon as we got on the road he told me the sad story of a loss he’d suffered that year. A loss which shattered into more, larger losses until his entire life was only dubious pieces of the beautiful shape it had only so recently come to hold. I could find no way to retrieve that fancy recording device and turn this conversation into an interview. All the lines I had practiced, the placement of the now worthless recorder in the door pocket: it all seemed so easy since we’d be trapped in a car for several hours. My dream exit from the world of failed writer and into the world of aspiring journalist died then, and I realized that failed or not, there was no escape from being writer. Even if I never put another word to paper I was, unfortunately, a writer. I lived in the shadow of the man sitting next to me telling me how terrible his life had become. A man who was a giant only in our largely unknown world of poetry, but a place where I was still nobody.
After the pain of his story exhausted him, he asked that I just “do whatever I would normally do when I drive.” So I put in one of the CDs I brought for the ride out. We sat silent and listened to the opening track of Arcade Fire’s Funeral. (“And if the snow buries my, my neighborhood…”) As the music faded, Bill shouted, “That was great! That was amazing!” He laughed. “That was like the first time I heard U2! Can we listen to it again?” Of course, I said, smiling now, too. After listening to the first track of the album (I am not exaggerating) at least 10 times he asked to hear the whole album. “That was great. Not as good as that first song, but wonderful.” We listened to the whole album a few more times through–-and the “Tunnels” track a few more times still–-then stopped for Frosties and fries at a Wendy’s somewhere Connecticut. Me, sitting with the Bard our times, in the repose our times, laughing as the mess of our lives that summer slowly sank into our pasts.