Search results for bill knott.

Bill Knott on poetry and failure

Masochists, manic depressives, suicides, all poets are neurotics of the death instinct, losers and failures who embrace the misery of their wretched trade, who wallow in its servile aura of diminishment and squalor—its paltry practice.

But among poets, those dismal defeated schlemiels and corner-biting cowards lured by vile Virgils into the abyss of verse, a fortunate few manage to inhabit the upper circles, its higher hellblocks—

Even among the damned there are divisions…there are even (and it’s almost unbelievable that they can exist) some poets who want to succeed!  Who want their poetry to be read! Who actually try to write poetry that is accessible and can reach an audience!—

What traitors these are to their class—(jeez, if they didn’t want to be failures, why did they become poets!)


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January 16th, 2012 / 12:10 pm

Bill Knott Week: Last Postings

Best Deal on the Internet:

If you send your mailing address to, Bill Knott will send you a one-of-a-kind staplebound edition of his poems, with handmade cover art.

James Wright on Bill Knott, from Wright’s collected letters:

New York City
September 6, 1975

D. Groth,

You kind letter made me happy. Poetry is a strange adventure: at crucial times it is––it has to be a search undertaken in absolute solitude, so we often find ourselves lost in loneliness––which is quite a different thing from solitude. America is so vast a country, and people who value the life of the spirit, and try their best to live such a life, certainly need times and places of uncluttered solitude all right. But after the journey into solitude––where so many funny and weird and sometimes startlingly beautiful things can happen, whether in language or––even more strangely––in the silences between words and even within words––we come into crowds of people, and chances are they are desperately lonely. Sometimes it takes us years––years, years!–to convey to another lonely person just what it was we might have been blessed and lucky enough to discover in our solitude.

In the meantime, though, the loneliness of the spirit can be real despair. A few years ago, when I lived in St. Paul, Minn., I received unexpectedly a short note from a young poet* who was bitterly poverty striken in Chicago. READ MORE >

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May 6th, 2011 / 12:26 am

Bill Knott Week: An Essay by Peter Jurmu

Some notes on Knott from Peter Jurmu:

When What You Really Really Want Is To Cover Territory

Sex on Quicksand: Collected Short Poems 1960-2009, like Breccia (or An Incomplete Inventory of Dorian Gray’s Closet—cover pictured above—that phone number is the request line for a Boston-area oldies station, WODS— READ MORE >

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May 5th, 2011 / 2:02 am

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.


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May 4th, 2011 / 1:42 pm

Bill Knott Week: A Knottian Contribution from Jeremiah Gould

photograph and photograph preparation by Jeremiah Gould

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May 4th, 2011 / 12:48 am

Bill Knott Week: mythkitty

Bill Knott, perhaps in response to a suggestion on this site that he make his already-free digital editions of his books available as text files for convenience of e-reader types, published a first draft of mythkitty, a new selection of his poems, on his blogspot site. I copied it immediately to a text file, and sent it to my Kindle.

From Knott’s introductory notes to mythkitty:

Philip Larkin urged poets to refrain from rummaging in what he called the “myth-kitty” and to instead take their themes and images from the immediate daily life around them, as he himself did so brilliantly and with such genius.
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May 3rd, 2011 / 6:05 pm

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. READ MORE >
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May 3rd, 2011 / 4:36 am

Bill Knott Week: Matthew Salesses on “The Enemy” and Two from the Bill Knott Mailbag

Matthew Salesses is author of the forthcoming novella The Last Repatriate, and two prose chapbooks–Our Island of Epidemics (PANK) and We Will Take What We Can Get (Publishing Genius). You can find some of his stories in Glimmer Train, Witness, Mid-American Review, Pleiades, The Literary Review, and Quarterly West. He is also a columnist and fiction editor for The Good Men Project. He lives in Boston.

I asked him to write a few words about Bill Knott’s poem “The Enemy.” Here is the poem:


Like everyone I demand to be
Defended unto the death of
All who defend me, all the
World’s people I command to
Roundabout me shield me, to
Fight off the enemy. The
Theory is if they all stand
Banded together and wall me
Safe, there’s no one left to
Be the enemy. Unless I of
Course start attack, snap-
Ping and shattering my hands
On your invincible backs. READ MORE >

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May 2nd, 2011 / 11:45 am

Bill Knott Week: Q&A with Kathleen Rooney

Kathleen Rooney is a founding editor of Rose Metal Press. With Elisa Gabbert, she is the author of That Tiny Insane Voluptuousness (Otoliths, 2008). Her prose collection For You, For You I Am Trilling These Songs is now available from Counterpoint Press. She lives in Chicago, where she works as a Visiting Assistant Professor of English and Creative Writing at DePaul University, and where she will be the Writer-in-Residence at Roosevelt University for 2011-2012.

Q: You’ve told me, more than once, that Bill Knott was a formative figure in your development as a poet. Why and how?

A: First, I have to get something out of the way because Bill is unflagging in his commitment to reading—and potentially weighing in on—practically every single statement uttered about him on the Internet, and that something is: Hi, Bill! Hope you’re well.

So: Back in 2001, when I was in my senior year of undergrad, my then-boyfriend, now-husband, Martin Seay introduced me to Bill’s work by way of Selected and Collected Poems, published in 1977. It had an ugly-attractive, sleazy-cheesy seventies cover and the poems inside were similarly repellant-yet-alluring. They made me feel weird and I could not stop thinking about them. After that, I sought out The Naomi Poems and fell totally under their spell; the fact that almost every aspect of the book (from the Corpse and Beans pun in the title onward) was in questionable taste was compelling. And even though, as I say above, Bill is obviously still alive, one of the things that drew me to his work was the way he “killed” himself right from the start, publishing The Naomi Poems in 1968 as being by St. Geraud, “a virgin and a suicide.” By killing him “self,” Bill sort of set himself free. I’ve written about these ideas elsewhere, but the metaphor of a person’s books as being their ghosts (as Christian Hawkey says in Ventrakl: “Books—of the living or the dead—are the truest ghosts among us, the immaterial made material”) and the notion that a poet is always already dead are appealing concepts to me, and Bill’s poetry helped me think about those ideas before I even know what they were or how to label them or why I liked them.

Anyway. I was trying to decide where to get my master’s and wanting to study with Bill was huge among my reasons for deciding to go to Emerson College. See? Formative.

Q: What is your favorite Bill Knott poem?

A: At the risk of stating the obvious, I have to say that by saying what my “favorite” Bill Knott poem is, I’m not trying to assert that it’s in anyway the “best.” But this is it, from page 49 of The Naomi Poems. And it is not even the first poem on the page. There is a poem above it called “Poem” (which is something he told us, as his students, never ever ever to title a poem):

Nuremberg, U.S.A.

In this time and place, where “Bread and Circuses” has
become “Bread and Atrocities,” to say ‘I love you’ is
like saying the latest propaganda phrase…’defoliation’…
‘low yield blast’.
If bombing children is preserving peace, then
my fucking you is a war-crime. READ MORE >

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May 2nd, 2011 / 9:29 am