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Friday, March 14, 2014

Goodbye, Bill Knott

A few years ago I got an email through this blog from the poet and visual artist Bill Knott, telling me that he'd read some of my work online and wanted to know how to get a hold of my books. Because of the time difference between the US and Japan, by the time I had woken up and checked my email and had time to reply to him that I'd gotten so much of his poetry for free over the years that it would be my pleasure to send him my poetry books, he'd already found a way to purchase my work himself.

Later he wrote me to tell me he'd read and liked my books, as opposed to so much of what was out there these days, and he encouraged me to continue with my work. Knott was a teacher at Emerson for years, and despite his self-proclaimed status as an outsider, he had a lot of in-depth contact with many poets over the years, offering support to many. But for me, having taken no classes or degrees in poetry and having precious few contacts in the poetry world, his reaching out was a kindness and a validation that I sorely needed. Sometimes I wonder if my poetry exists at all-- like Don Marquis who said "Publishing a book of poetry is like dropping a rose petal down the Grand Canyon and waiting for an echo"--sometimes I wonder if I exist artistically at all, but through an exchange of emails over a few weeks, Bill Knott made me feel that I did, even as it was clear he felt his own legacy was ephemeral to non-existent. Bill Knott was my petal's echo.

Read more about Bill Knott's life here. And this tribute here. Despite his reputation for being cantankerous, he was truly a good-hearted man and a gifted poet. I read his poems first in high school, and was intrigued by his pseudonym with its backstory. Later, through the internet I got to know his visual work as well.

His very famous poem on death is the first of his I ever read, ironically:


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.

Bill Knott


Today, I'd like to share this other poem of his:


We brush the other, invisible moon.
Its caves come out and carry us inside.

Bill Knott


Come inside, outsider.

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