Monday, March 31, 2014

RIP Bill Knott

Bill Knott

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 neighbours
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

I enjoyed this poem a lot when I encountered it on today's AAP Poem-a-day. I love its ease and casual (seemingly casual) brilliance, hallmarks of Knott's verse. Then I discovered by scrolling down that its author had died only a couple of weeks ago. Quite a shock.

I first encountered Knott online about ten years ago, ordered his renowned early collection, "The Naomi Poems" at considerable cost through Abe Books, and then his self-published selected, "Goodbye to Prisoner", from the blog of the author himself. We had some correspondence, but he struck me as cagy and bitter, with a harsh penchant for self-deprecation that seemed both a kind of exaggerated put-on, but also genuine, borne of profound self-hatred.  Then I got very busy, and our dialogue fell off.  This article in the New Yorker confirms those impressions, and tells us more about his life and work. Like one of the writers quoted there, I learned to admire him from a distance.

Is the "not" at the end of the first and last lines a play on the author's name? It certainly becomes so, inevitably, in that final, fatal light. (A light all good poetry is written in, of course.)  Anyway, RIP at last, Bill.  Your work will endure.

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