May 4th, 2011 / 1:42 pm

Bill Knott Week: First Step toward a New & Selected Poems

Another Knotty thing worth snagging for your e-reader: Bill Knott is offering (again, for free!) what he’s calling a “first step” toward a long-awaited New and Selected Poems edition. From the introductory note:

This volume is a selection of poems I’ve written through
the years, from 1960 to the present.

My choices are personal, though in some instances I’m relying on what other people have indicated they liked,
deferring to their judgement.

Farrar Straus & Giroux marketed my book “The Unsubscriber” in 2004, and then foolishly, considering what a critical and financial failure that book was, proposed to publish as a follow-up my Selected Poems, and suggested I should prepare a 240-page ms. for that purpose. Luckily wiser heads prevailed, the Selected was quashed and never appeared.

This is the shadow version of that stillborn book.

The book offers, as is Knott’s custom, a sampling of anti-blurbs (culled from prominent reviews) that run down the author. It is unclear, given the generous ellipses, how much context has been elided. Certainly many of the “blurbers” are known as measured reviewers, and it is likely that Knott has foregrounded the harshest words from each review. This seems to be part of his project. Let posterity note, however, that hidden at the tail end of this run of blurbs is a string of words many poets would die seven deaths in exchange for hearing once about their work, from the likes of James Wright, Mary Jo Bang, Kenneth Rexroth, David Kirby, Stephen Dobyns, Robert Pinsky, Charles Simic, and Sandra McPherson. I offer them here, in their entirety, because, let’s face it, the whole point of Bill Knott Week — all these posts, all these tributes and anti-tributes, all this yammering — is to encourage you to read the work of a truly interesting poet and a true artist who has been laboring for more years than most readers of this site have been alive, for more years than I have been alive. Read the blurbs, I’m saying, and get interested, and then head over to Knott’s blogspot, and take what he’s freely offering, his New & Selected Poems, which could well have been released in a high-profile manner by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, had not Knott turned them down for his own head-scratching reasons, and give the poet the gift of receiving the good gift freely given. Here is the link:

And here are the blurbs:

“[Bill Knott’s] poems are so naive that the question of their poetic quality hardly arises. . . . Mr. Knott practices a dead language.” —Denis Donoghue, New York Review of Books, May 7, 1970

[Bill Knott’s poems are] typically mindless. . . . He produces only the prototaxis of idiocy. . . . Rumor has it that Knott’s habit of giving his birth and terminal dates together originated when he realized he could no longer face the horror of a poetry reading he was scheduled to give.” —Charles Molesworth, Poetry (Chicago) Magazine, May 1972

“[Bill Knott is] malignant . . .”—Christopher Ricks, The Massachusetts Review, Spring 1970

“[Bill Knott’s work] consists almost entirely of pointless poems, that say disgusting things. . . . [His poetry is] tasteless . . . and brainless.” —Michael Heffernan, Midwest Quarterly, Summer

“Consider Bill Knott, a poet who writes lots of very short poems that are nothing but bombast.”
—Josh Hanson, Livejournal, 28/06/07: html

“[Bill] Knott’s work tends today to inspire strong dismissal. . . . [He’s] been forced to self-publish some of his recent books. . . . [B]ad—not to mention offensively grotesque—poetry. . . .
appalling . . . . maddening . . . . wildly uneven . . . adolescent, or obsessively repetitive . . . grotesqueries . . . . [His] language is like thick, old paint . . . his poems have a kind of prickly accrual that’s less decorative than guarded or layered . . . emotionally distancing . . . . uncomfortable. Knott . . . is a willful . . . irritating . . . contrarian.”
—Meghan O’Rourke, Poetry Magazine, Feb 2005

“Knott is making capitol on poetic fashion, attempting belatedly to enter the canon of the Language poets by reviving the idiom of Ezra Pound. [His work] so successfully defies
communicating anything that one wonders what [his publisher] had in mind. . . . Knott, it may be recalled, “killed” himself in the early 1960s.” —R. S. Gwynn, The Year in Poetry, DLB
Yearbook 1989

“Eccentric, uneven . . . poet Bill Knott is not [fit] to win prizes . . . [His work is] thorny . . . rebellious, avant-garde . . . .”
—Robert Pinsky, Washington, April 17, 2005

“[Bill Knott is] incompetent . . .”
—Alicia Ostriker, Partisan Review, Vol. 38, #2, 1971

“Bill Knott, the crown prince of bad judgment.”
—Ron Silliman, Silliman’s Blog, June 26, 2007

“[Bill Knott’s poetry is] queerly adolescent . . . extremely weird. . . personal to the point of obscurity. . . his idiosyncrasy has grown formulaic, his obscure poems more obscure, his terse observations so terse they scoot by without leaving much of a dent in the reader. . . . There is a petulance at work [in his poetry]. . . . [H]is style has grown long in the tooth. . . . In fact, [Knott is] unethical.”—Marc Pietrzykowski, Contemporary Poetry Review, 2006

“Bill Knott’s [poetry is the equivalent of] scrimshaw. . . . [He’s] either self-consciously awkward or perhaps a little too slangily up-to-date.” —Stephen Burt, New York Times Book Review, November 21, 2004

“Bill Knott[‘s] ancient, academic ramblings are part of what’s wrong with poetry today. Ignore the old bastard.” —Collin Kelley (from “They Shoot Poets Don’t They” blog, August 08, 2006)

“Bill Knott . . . is so bad one can only groan in response.”
—Peter Stitt, Georgia Review, Winter 1983

“Bill Knott bores me to tears.” —Curtis Faville,

“[Bill Knott’s books are] filled with venom. . . . Knott seems to hate himself . . . and he seems to hate his readers.” —Kirk Robinson, Another Chicago Magazine, #38, 2000

“Bill Knott’s poems are . . . rhetorical fluff . . . and fake.”
—Ron Loewinsohn, TriQuarterly, Spring 1970

“People claim Bill Knott was the inspiration for punk.”
—Eileen Myles, p. 69, Inferno, 2010

“Bill Knott’s a prissy little moron.”
—Matthew Henriksen,, March 23, 2009

“Bill Knott should be beaten with a flail.”
—Tomaz Salamun, Snow, 1973

“[T]he remarkable poet Bill Knott is not the type to win prizes, become the pet of academic critics or cultivate acolytes. But this thorny genius has added to the art of poetry.”
—Robert Pinsky, Washington Post, 2005

“Bill Knott is our contemporary e.e. cummings . . . . Like cummings, he is brilliant at both micro and macro.”
—Cindra Halm, Rain Taxi, Fall 2004

“For the past thirty-five years Bill Knott has shown himself to be one of our very best poets and perhaps the most original. . . . I think he is one of the few poets of my generation who will remain with us.”
—Stephen Dobyns, Harvard Review (Spring 2002)

“Bill Knott is a meld between Gerard Manley Hopkins and MTV, producing poems with the former’s violent beauty and the latter’s largely ironic postmodern presence.”
—Mary Jo Bang, Lingua Franca (May 2000)

“Knott was an incredibly important poet to me and still is; I think Bill Knott is a genius and probably the least known great poet in America. It’s really kind of pathetic that he’s not as well known as he was even thirty years ago because he’s even better now.” —Thomas Lux, The Cortland Review (August 1999)

“Bill Knott is one of the best poets writing in America. Without question, he is the most original.” —Kurt Brown, Harvard Review, 1999)

“Bill Knott is a genius.”
—Tom Andrews, Ohio Review (1997)

“It is no accident that the major British and American poets of the 19th and 20th century were outsiders. . . . The most original poet of my generation, Bill Knott, is also the greatest outsider.”
—Stephen Dobyns, AWP Chronicle (1995)

“Bill Knott is the secret hero of a lot of poets. . . . [P]oets who differ radically from Knott look to his work for the shock of recognizing themselves.”
—David Kirby, American Book Review (1991)

“Bill Knott’s poems . . . are the poems Beckett’s Gogo would write if he were among us.”
—Sharon Dunn, Massachusetts Review (1990)

“[Knott’s ‘Poems 1963-1988’ is] a powerful and original book, a record of one of the most disturbing imaginations of our times. Few people can create a world so completely and concisely as Knott does time and time again.”
—Kevin Hart, Overland (1990)

“Knott is no parlor poet. His work is the most sharply original of any poet in his generation.”
—Jim Elledge, Booklist (1989)

“Among people who know his work, Bill Knott is regarded as one of the most original voices in American poetry.”
—Charles Simic, blurb for Poems 1963-1988 (1989)

“Knott sets up principles far outside most of those we know, and he always writes up to and beyond those standards.”
—Sandra McPherson, blurb for Outremer (1989)

“Bill Knott is an American original. No one else could have imagined what James Wright once referred to as Bill Knott’s ‘indispensable poems.'”
—Stuart Dischell, Harvard Book Review (1989)

“I think Bill Knott is the best poet in America right now.”
—Thomas Lux, Emerson Review (1983)

“Bill Knott’s first book, ‘The Naomi Poems,’ published in 1968, established him instantaneously as one of the finest poets in America. Subsequent publications deepened and reinforced that reputation.”
—Andrei Codrescu, The Baltimore Sun (1983)

“[Knott’s poems are] shrouded almost always in the glaring and polluted light William Burroughs foresaw with such brilliance in ‘Naked Lunch.’ In fact, Knott, Poet of Interzone, is the poet Burroughs seemed to call for in his seminal novel. . . . Knott is one of a handful of original poets working today. His genius suits the times better than any poet I’ve read . . .” —Robert Peters, Los Angeles Times (1983)

“With the death of Berryman, Knott seems to me to be the chief embodiment in language today of Mallarmé’s spirit. . . ”
—John Vernon, Western Humanities Review (1976)

“. . . Knott’s originality as a poet: he is absurd and classical and surrealist all at once. A marvelously impossible animal.”
—Paul Zweig, Contemporary Poetry in America (1974)

“At his best, Knott is a kind of surreal classicist. . . . He is already a formidable poet.”
—Karl Malkoff, Crowell’s Handbook of Contemporary American Poetry (1974)

“[Knott’s] images are astonishing. Whatever you may think of Knott’s poems, they have not been written before by anyone else. . . . Poetry such as this strikes me as extending our awareness.”
—Louis Simpson, New York Times Book Review (1969)

“Bill Knott is one of the most remarkable poets to appear since James Wright and James Dickey.”
—Ralph J. Mills, Jr., Poetry (1969)

“I think [Bill Knott] is one of the best poets I know.”
—James Wright, blurb for The Naomi Poems (1968)

“I think the most significant group of young poets are those published in Choice and The Sixties, and the most impressive of these is certainly William Knott.”
—Kenneth Rexroth, Harper’s Magazine (June 1965)


  1. Eric Beeny

      “I wish to be misunderstood; that is, to be understood from your perspective.”
      –Bill Knott

  2. marshall

      u can fuk my bitch bill knott

  3. Anonymous
  4. Anonymous
  5. alex crowley

      that list is a kick-ass poem in it’s own right

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