Bill Knott

Somebody just handed me this photo of a stiff
I think I see smoke coming out of it

Why is everybody abusing this corpse?
He props himself up to take it
Back to the four walls of his skull
With his bored frown and deadly gaze

He should be marble by now
Kept around on lawns for all to recall
His great works and deeds while yet deceased

Caller of the perfect crimes
Death loves a shining mark

—James Tate, from Gerald Malanga’s feature “A Portfolio of Photographs of Writers Accompanied by Poems.”

Interviewer: What, to borrow James Wright’s phrase, is the “occasion of a poem” for you?

Bill Knott: The occasion of a poem? It makes me think of that quote from Henry James:
“We work in the dark—we do what we can—we give what we have. Our doubt is our passion and our passion is our task. The rest is the madness of art.”
Doubt seems to be my normal state which the poem or its origin suddenly and briefly overcomes. I know I can’t write a poem. I have no right to write a poem. Mark Strand has the right to write a poem, not me. He went to Yale; he lives on the yacht of his youth. Me, I grew up in an orphanage, no family, no money, no “educational opportunities.” No background, no breeding. Scum like me can’t write poems. After his Ivy League education, C. K. Williams lived in Paris on a trust fund for ten years while he wrote his first book; me, after high school and two years in the army I worked as a hospital orderly while I wrote my first book. Lower-class scum, menials like me have no right to write poetry. The occasion of a poem? You wanna know the fucking occasion? There is none for me. Strand and Williams and Pinsky et al. have “occasion.” I have no occasion.

The Consolations of Sociobiology

by Bill Knott

(to JK)

Those scars rooted me. Stigmata stalagmite
I sat at a drive-in and watched the stars
Through a straw while the Coke in my lap went
Waterier and waterier. For days on end or
Nights no end I crawled on all fours or in
My case no fours to worship you: Amoeba Behemoth.
—Then you explained your DNA calls for
Meaner genes than mine and since you are merely
So to speak its external expression etcet
Ergo among your lovers I’ll never be…
Ah that movie was so faraway the stars melting
Made my thighs icy. I see: it’s not you
Who is not requiting me, it’s something in you
Over which you have no say says no to me.
Bill Knott, "Sonnet"

The way the world is not
Astonished at you
It doesn’t blink a leaf
When we step from the house
Leads me to think
That beauty is natural, unremarkable
And not to be spoken of
Except in the course of things
The course of singing and worksharing
The course of squeezes and neighbors
The course of you tying back your raving hair to go out
And the course of course of me
Astonished at you
The way the world is not

a homepub printed/stapled/etc by the author

this edition: 08/25/11

“Bill Knott, the crown prince of bad judgement.” - Ron Silliman

“People claim Bill Knott was the inspiration for punk.” - Eileen Myles

“Bill Knott should be beaten with a flail.” - Tomaz Salamun

“Bill Knott is a genius and probably the least known great poet in America.” Thomas Lux

It appears Bill Knott has died, for real this time, the bastard. He gave me money once when I needed it. I didn’t ask him to, he just sent me money. He’d send me hand-painted books from time to time. If there’s some other crazy world where he is now, which he doubted, & I doubt, I hope he knows what a pain in the ass he was, & how much we loved him.

 … everywhere
they will be finishing the poems you broke away from.

"First Sight," by Bill Knott

Summer is entered through screen doors,
and therefore seems unclear
at first sight, when it is in fact
a mesh of fine wires
suspended panewise
whose haze has confused the eyes …

What if we never entered then—
what if the days remained like this,
a hesitation at the threshold of itself,
expectant, tense, tensile
as lines that cross each other
in a space forever latent
where we wait, pressed up against
something trying to retain its vagueness. 

Bill Knott, "Ledgelife"

The taller the monument, the more impatient our luggage.
Look, look, a graveyard has fancy dirt.
Historians agree: this is the pebble which beaned Goliath.
Every billboard is theoretically as beautiful as what lies unseen behind it.

Mouth: the word’s exit-wound.
It is impossible to run away face-to-face.
Shadow has closed the door out of you to you, but not to us.
The sign on the wall advises: Hide your gloves beneath your wings.

Even sculptors occasionally lean against statues.
Migrations?! Fate?! Life swears up at ledgelife.
All the sad tantamounts gather. They want, they say, to errand our ways.

Please aim all kicks at the ground.
Address all blows to the air.


Richard Hell talks about Bill Knott

“He really rejected ambition. At the same time, he was really resentful for being ignored.”