Bill Knott would probably be mad at me for writing a blog about him. I also believe that he would revel in the fact that someone is writing about him and leave in the comments section something like this, "You are a dumbass nobody writing about another dumbass nobody who is an exile in the po-biz. Write when you are somebody."
Being somebody will probably never happen, so please excuse me for the following piece.
As an undergraduate I asked my mentor, Alan Soldofsky, who I write like. I studied haiku and the short form for years and I felt at that time I pushed as far as I could. Bill Knott is who he said, and, from his memory, Alan quoted these two poems to me:
If you are still alive when you read this,
close your eyes. I am
under their lids, growing black.
Going to sleep, I cross my hands on my chest
They will place my hands like this.
It will look as though I am flying into myself.
These poems resonate because the images are so succinct, but also the construction as well. In "Goodbye" note how there's an if/then clause forming, but there is no "then" -- rather an affirmation that something will happen rather than probably "I am / under their lids, growing black." Conversely, "Death" is not about structure, but the expanse of the image. Note how personal and close the crossing of the hands in the first line, then the expansion to the body, and then to the surreal which, to me, seems normal and not gimmicky.
These techniques are very hard to do in a short poem -- there's only so many words to play with and with amount of variables that can't be controlled. The short form is the ultimate trust in the reader. Either the reader will find something in these 20 some odd words, or will move on (which is easy to do).
For me reading these poems for the first time, I wanted more. I the majority of his books from the library, The Naomi Poems: Corpse and Beans, Stigmata Errate Etcetera, The Unsubscriber. There were some really awful poems, but there were poems that just blew me away because the poems are so smart in the approach.
I wanted to learn from him, and, at the time, I learned he was teaching at Emerson. I wanted to apply, but I spent all my money applying to other schools. I was accepted to San Jose State, but I was going to apply to Emerson the next year when I had more money. But he retired that next year.
What's the difference between determined versus stalker? Both yearn. The determined fall in love with the person, but a stalker stalker falls in love with the idea. And when I read the Naomi Poems it felt like I was reading the poems of a stalker.
Somewhere in history
Somewhere in untold ages
Somewhere in the sands of time
Somewhere in the vast seas of eternity
There is one person
Who could understand me and love me
And you're it
So get with it
However, not all stalkers are not without self-recognition and humor. Here the humor comes across in this poem because of expectation. The speaker appears to be in the position of defeat, but still in power. The speaker is pointing out the specific and has knowledge on who can "understand me and love me" but then relinquishes the power back on to the "you" -- "get with it."
I'll admit that I was more of a stalker in regards to Bill Knott. I found out that he had a blog, so I followed it. I found out he had a Facebook, so I friended him. He would constantly delete and then put up again his blogs and Facebook, but I still wanted to learn from him, and I learned about him which is irrelevant in some ways.
I e-mailed him a couple times: one for free books and art he was offering for Christmas which I was grateful for.
One for a question about his collaboration with Star Black in which he wrote "no collaboration on the stigmata book: the poems and the collages have nothing to do with each other; the publisher did the matchup, not me"
And I sent an e-mail recently to him about his frontpage essay about him: This is what he wrote back to me.
I started to read it but quickly gave up in disgust and disappointment . . .
I don't care what anybody writes about my poems as long as they write about the poems themselves period.
But he ignores the poems and uses his space to write about extraneous matters— the poems are what's
important (or not important as the critic deliberates), not a bunch of gossip about where the poems were
or weren't published . . , who did or didn't publish them is beside the point . . .
Are the poems good or are they bad? That's the only thing relevant for a reviewer/critic to address. I hate
personality and anecdotes, the People Magazine approach to critical writing . . .
He changed his mind though. I saw his comments about the article and it looked like he was grateful. Such as the case.
He might mean no one to nobody, which is a lie. His death reverberates on the front of Poetry Foundation -- such an extraneous matter.
So here are his poems, his work, his art -- these are the most important things about being a poet and artist. Being a artist is not about prestige, money, or marketing, it's in the goddamn name -- being an artist is about art:
Bill Knott reading his poems
Bill Knott on Youtube
Ultimately, just like his work, he left his work up to his readers to decide its fate -- regardless of publication or background. If time decides he's not a great poet, that's time's fault. I will regard his poems as the best I've ever read and I will always go back to his poems. Maybe that's what he would've wanted.
When my shadow falls off of me
I yell "So long!"
But when I fall off my shadow
It cries "Long so!"
It seems obvious
That one of us
Is either falling wrong
Or calling wrong