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Bill Knott


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.

Selected Bibliography

I Am Flying into Myself: Selected Poems, 1960–2014 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017)
The Unsubscriber (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004)
Laugh at the End of the World: Collected Comic Poems 1969–1999 (BOA Editions, 2000)
The Quicken Tree (BOA Editions, 1995)
Poems 1963–1988 (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1989)
Outremer (University of Iowa Press, 1989)
Becos (Random House, 1983)
Selected and Collected Poems (SUN, 1977)
Rome in Rome (Release Press, 1976)
Love Poems to Myself (Barn Dream Press, 1974)
Nights of Naomi (Barn Dream Press, 1971)
Auto-necrophilia (Big Table, 1971)
The Naomi Poems, Book One: Corpse and Beans (Big Table, 1968)

By This Poet



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 neighbors
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

Christmas at the Orphanage

But if they’d give us toys and twice the stuff
most parents splurge on the average kid,
orphans, I submit, need more than enough;
in fact, stacks wrapped with our names nearly hid
the tree where sparkling allotments yearly
guaranteed a lack of—what?—family?—

I knew exactly what it was I missed:
(did each boy there feel the same denials?)
to share my pals’ tearing open their piles
meant sealing the self, the child that wanted
to scream at all You stole those gifts from me;
whose birthday is worth such words? The wish-lists
they’d made us write out in May lay granted
against starred branches. I said I’m sorry.

The Day After My Father’s Death

It’s too complex to explain,
but I was already in
the orphanage when dad died;
and so that day when I cried,
to keep the other children safe
from my infectious grief
they left me in lockdown
in some office where I found
piles of comicbooks hid
which they had confiscated
from us kids through the years,
and on through wiped tears
I pored quickly knowing
this was a one-time thing—
this quarantine would soon end—
I’d never see them again:
I’d regret each missed issue,
and worse than that I knew
that if a day ever did come
when I could obtain them,
gee, I’d be too old to read
them then, I’d be like him, dad.