Bill Knott was born on February 17, 1940, in Carson City, Michigan. When he was seven years old, his mother died in childbirth, and his father passed away three years later. He grew up in an orphanage in Mooseheart, Illinois, and on an uncle’s farm. In the late 1950s, he joined the U.S. Army and, after serving his full enlistment, was honorably discharged in 1960.
In the early 1960s, Knott moved to Chicago, where he worked as a hospital orderly. There, he became involved in the poetry scene and worked with John Logan, Paul Carroll, Charles Simic, and other poets. He published his first book, The Naomi Poems, Book One: Corpse and Beans (Big Table, 1968), under the pseudonym Saint Geraurd in 1968. He also published Nights of Naomi (Barn Dream Press, 1971) and Auto-necrophilia (Big Table, 1971) under the same name.
Knott went on to publish several poetry collections under his own name, including I Am Flying into Myself: Selected Poems, 1960–2014 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017), edited by Thomas Lux; Laugh at the End of the World: Collected Comic Poems 1969–1999 (BOA Editions, 2000); Becos (Random House, 1983); and Love Poems to Myself (Barn Dream Press, 1974). He also self-published many books and posted all of his poems online, where they could be read for free.
Of his work, Lux writes, “As dense as some of his poems can be, they rarely defeat comprehensibility. Some are so lucid and straightforward, they are like a punch in the gut, or one’s first great kiss…. His intense focus on every syllable, and the sound of every syllable in relation to nearby sounds, is so skilled that the poems often seem casual: Art hides art.”
Knott taught at Emerson College for over twenty-five years. He received the Iowa Poetry Prize, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, among other honors and awards. He died on March 12, 2014, in Bay City, Michigan.