reviewed by Jennifer Michael Hecht
A few weeks before Knott died in 2014, he self-published his Collected Poetry 1960–2014 through Amazon, including nearly a thousand poems from which the poet Thomas Lux has chosen 152 for this volume. Knott had a difficult early life. His mother died in childbirth when he was six, and four years later his father killed himself. He was in an orphanage for years and spent a year in a mental hospital. The poems that speak directly to those facts are striking, such as “Christmas at the Orphanage,” the scouring “The Day After My Father’s Death” and the “The Closet.” There is a range of poems in this book, some are dark and metaphysical while others wildly humorous. In “Dear Advice Columnist” Knott writes, “I recently killed my father / And will soon marry my mother; / My question is: / Should his side of the family be invited to the wedding?” In poems like these, there is a kind of maniacal rudeness that Knott pulls off. There are neologisms and fresh phrases like “that nursive warmth” where Knott indulges in language play and also longer poems that are often about devoted love. At times it feels as if Knott is addressing a specific “you,” a woman, idealized and remembered, and although there are many stylistic variances throughout the book, the voice is remarkably his own.
This review originally appeared in American Poets, Spring-Summer 2017.