Remembering St. Geraud


From The New Yorker:

When word came again, last week, that Knott had died, no one knew quite whether to believe it. Death makes deniers of us all, but in Knott’s case we had good reason to trust our instinctive disbelief. This time, unfortunately, the facts were unrelenting: on Wednesday, Knott died of complications from heart surgery. He was seventy-four.

I knew Knott glancingly, and only on the Internet. We first crossed paths nearly a decade ago, during what now looks like a golden age of poetry blogging, on sites like Harriet, at the Poetry Foundation. Knott liked to linger and heckle in online comment sections, hawking his self-published collections and lamenting his ill treatment at the hands of an all-powerful poetry establishment. To those of us who were young and green enough not to know better, he seemed, at first, like an ordinary Internet crank, the kind who scorns rules of decorum and proper English punctuation. In time, however, it became clear that Knott had a better gift for wordplay, and a wider range of reference, than many of the bloggers on whose posts he commented. He also had an odd penchant for self-deprecation: he insisted, loudly, on his own insignificance, and when someone inevitably informed us who we were dealing with—a poet whose fans include Denis Johnson, Richard Hell, and Mary Karr—the volume of his self-denunciations would only increase. “my poetic career is nugatory,” he wrote once. “no editor will countenance my work; i’ve been forced to self-publish my poetry in vanity volumes; i am persona non grata and universally despised or ridiculed by everyone in the poetry world.”

As though in thrall to the homonymic force of his last name, Knott seemed to thrive on self-denial. Never mind that he’d published collections with major presses, or that he’d won a Guggenheim and the Iowa Poetry Prize, or that he’d held tenure at Emerson College, where he taught for more than twenty-five years. Never mind that in “The Naomi Poems,” his first book, he already knew how to put together a perfect patch of verse, like the poem “Goodbye”:

If you are still alive when you read this,
close your eyes. I am
under their lids, growing black.

To hear Knott tell it, none of this mattered. On his various blogs, which spawned and deceased like mayflies, he posted collages of rejection slips and a running tally of anti-blurbs: positive reviews and compliments that he’d carved up with ellipses to read like pans.

“Remembering Bill Knott”, Robert P. Baird, The New Yorker