My Professor and Mentor, Bill Knott, passed away on March 12, 2014. He was a prolific poet, won numerous awards, a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Iowa Poetry Prize, published by University Presses, Random House, Straus and Giroux, amongst others.
I will be adding reflections here, perhaps some assignments he typed for the class, poems I worked on with him, and if you’d like your comment shared, I will post your comment here too.
I get all guey when I think about Bill not being here, but that is absent to the fact that his teachings in poetry workshops at graduate school, his years of guiding me and mentoring me after graduate school is very present and in the moment here right now. Every time I write a sonnet, I write it from Bill’s years of guidance, probing, testing, teaching, practicing and intact memory of his voice and expressions of when I did something well and when I devastated a poem. He’d smack his palm of his hand to his forehead, “What? Why would you ever, ever do that?” “Get that out of there!” Bill was absolute with his work; passionate can’t hardly explain his dedication to the occupation of verse. Many poems he wrote, he would rewrite over and over, even revisting the same poem published ten years ago in one of his earlier books, he would reword, change a rhyme, change the enjambment, and then incoming another Bill Knott poem birthing. The only romanticism between Bill and I was our ceaseless and relentless love for poetry. Knott was also one of the few practitioners of poetry that could write about the cliched and over written “love poem” and do it well. Sometimes he remade a love poem, goose bumped would jump off the page. He worked and worked, giving to his students, writing reviews, rewriting poems; it was not just about his work, but he helped so many others, students or fellow poets, and readers. It is true, he was ungraceful and blunt when he didn’t particularly enjoy what he read. He was fearless (humorous as well) with the politics of the mainstream poetry as well, however. The beauty of working with him, however, was you never wondered what does he really feel/think? His later work was at times used against him. He was intentionally obscure at times, why? I think because he felt like it and rather simply, because he could. Many mysteries will remain when he started self-publishing fiercely and those never ending dark forces using poems against him, as seemingly evidence against any sort of greatness of Knott.
Knott was my biggest fan and encouraged me, when I needed it the most. Sentimental or actual, the factual is Knott was and continues to be precious to my heart. I hope this inspires hundreds of more readers, since his range is one of kind and brilliant. I believe he wrote only one Children’s Book of verse, (I could stand corrected) which is a shame, because he was gifted beyond anything imaginable when it came to perfect and slanted rhymes. In addition, I loved his book art. He often painted the cover of his self published books and included his paintings in book form. He was inspiring, endless inpsiration coming from just a few moments with him, unlike anyother.
I have a great memory of Bill at a poetry workshop while at Emerson College, in graduate school. In essence, Bill made a clear message to a student who made many judgments of the people she wrote about in her poem: “don’t ever condemn, ever.” Bill let the student know if she did it again, she would have the option to switch out of his poetry workshop for another workshop. I agree with Bill, poetry wasn’t a place intended to condemn people.
From the trees the leaves came down
until we joined hands with a wand
and that act enabled them
somehow then to reach the ground
where they scuttered round our feet
urging the latter to unite
with a baton as if that act
together with the hands can clasp
a dowsing-stick cut from the same
branch from which we launched
converging on gravity's purge-point
at which point we merged to remove
all consonants from our star-maps.
The infinite consists of vowels alone.
The Unsubscriber. Knott, Bill. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004