Friday, March 28, 2014


awynfoto-Mar. 28, 2014

Its resistance to departure manifests in
slanty flaked reminders
of tenacities -
        its to hold on,
            yours to hold out,
till Time decides
it's time.

Spring waits,
on hold -

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Salut, Bill Knott 1940-2014

 Bill Knott - Untitled

One has different reasons for one's initial response to a poem.  It might excite, confuse, entertain, disturb, appall or bore you.  Some of Bill Knott's poems made me laugh out loud.  Others made me cringe.  Many I simply couldn't understand what the heck he was talking about.  A significant number of them, however,  resonated. . .  astonished . . . stunned.  Certain ones just blew me away, and I found myself going back to them, again and again.

Knott frequently posted rough drafts on his blog, working and reworking a poem over and over - repeating, deleting, soundscoping,  wordchipping, rearranging whole lines.  Many he simply titled "Poem" or "Untitled".   I wondered how he kept track of them.   A word here, a line there, an arresting image, a compelling metaphor--I marveled at Knott's sheer bouts of creativity.

I  first contacted Knott in 2011 to ask permission to share one of his poems on Salamander Cove.   "Surely you could find a poet who isn't a now-forgotten oddity to feature on your site," was his reply.  Nevertheless, then--and several times in the years since, he graciously said yes to my using "any of" his verse or paintings.  I was just to spell his name correctly, "Knott, with two T's".

I had a brief email exchange with Knott back in 2012 when I approached him with the idea of doing a single-poet issue on Salamander Cove to showcase 52 of his poems and 37 of his paintings as a first Special Feature  (later desktop-pubbed as a 74-page booklet A Pocketful of Poems and Art by Bill Knott, sent to him as a thank-you).  Knott encouraged me in a separate early project, and half a year later, one day he emails me out of the blue, asking "Well, so whatever happened to your project?"  and to my procrastinatey excuse at the time, his blunt response was: "What are you waiting for? Just DO it!"  A much-needed verbal jumpstart that got me back working on it again.

Bill Knott - Horses of Time
I learned a lot from some of Knott's blog posts over the years. For example, he once provided 25 different translations he'd collected of Verlaine's Chanson d'Automne.   I found it invaluable comparing these translations, noting  how some felt plodding and pedestrian, while others better grasped the nuance.  I wondered how much time it'd taken Knott to find  these dozens of examples, then type them all out, one by one.  On the blog he'd sometimes critique a poem he admired (or hated), the examination of which got me to look more carefully at word choice, sound,  and form in a poem; how the slightest substitution could utterly ruin, or bring it to life.  Thanks to works mentioned I began reading poems I might normally have bypassed because of their "type".

Knott's syllabic verse inspired me to experiment, rework prose poems into sonnets, reduce a flash fiction to haiku.   I  began pushing myself to go beyond my comfort zone to try new ways, for example,  to resurrect a failed poem I'd long ago given up on.   "I fly with my wings stuck up my ass [a line in a Knott poem declares] but at least I try."  He would no doubt be amused, if not downright appalled, at my taking this one line out of context (not to mention that  I can't even remember which of his poems it actually came from!).   How a single word or line of something can inspire.   Knott was constantly trying - Let's see where this goes; wonder what happens if I put this word here instead of there,  let's purposely make it only so many syllables in so many lines.   Let's completely rewrite.

Bill Knott - Knotthead with ball
Knott wrote poems and songs and verse and plays, did translations, taught poetry, mentored students and new poets, selfpubbed his own books, and made paintings, later multiventuring into the blogsphere, always with the same recognizable voice.  What really fascinated me was Knott's originality and prolific imagination.  His poems continually surprised me, the phrases that would emerge!, the intuition they hinted at, the insights they sometimes  led me toI found myself using the word "Brilliant!" or a quiet little "wow" escape my lips after reading certain poems, where with certain others (especially the very long and  confusing ones) my eyes would simply glaze over.  The poems Knott wrote that 'stayed in mind'--those that get revisited, remembered--fall in the dozens.

I liked the way Knott experimented with language, giving objects emotions (or motives), verbing nouns or nouning verbs; combining, stretching, tweaking, rewiring, constantly re-inventing.  A  word would jump off the page from one of his poems as THE perfect word as used (even if made up) --  'Yawnwaving', 'twinmatism', 'stigmontage'  . . 'inbetweenities!!' 

Cartoon-like scenes would rush to mind's eye, of a stick figure "escaping blackly down its boundaries" or "a mustache that'd lost its urge to duel."  These playful splurts of Knottivity continually surprised, delighted, engaged.  It showed me you don't have to understand another's language to hear the message/discern the meaning in a poem; or be afraid to resculpt your tongue to express the way you see a thing.

Bill Knott - Knotthead Squared
Knott was remarkably generous, as has been mentioned by others.   (Last fall I ordered and bought from him two small books of poems.  Imagine my surprise when what arrived in the mailbox were not two, but nine (NINE!!!) of his books all packed together into one box.)   He placed images of all his art work up on line, as a visitable archive, adding that because of illness he had given up painting. But he kept on poeming, to the very end, even though he'd also grumpily proclaimed, from time to time, that he was no longer going to write any more poems.  His unpredictability became almost predictable.  It's as if, however, he couldn't not keep doing so, and so he resumed, still "broken-winged", as he once deemed himself, still believing nobody cared and that his poetry didn't matter.  (On that account he would be wrong.)

More than several bloggers, in their mention of his passing have quoted this poem: 

Going to sleep, I cross my hands on my chest.
They will place my hands like this.
It will look as though I am flying into myself.

Bill Knott- Drowning
I don't know where we 'fly to' when we die but I can imagine Knott aloft, tossing little homemade copies of his poems out to any willing takers as he soars on past.  He wrote a poem about a balloon once, titled "Aloft", starting with a question a little kid might ask, "When a balloon bursts, where's all the air go to?", jumping quickly into what it's like to try to secure one's "whoosh-hold":

why strive and huff just
to stave off death
to survive
to be a substance a stuff

A poem about balloon air suddenly becomes a poem about  . . . Death. 

to live life as a pocket
a cluster
a cloud
to maintain your interior

I can understand
that having once been
contained in bouyance
you'd want to retain
that rare coherence

you'd pray to stay a one
to remain a unity an
entity a whole in
this unencased heaven

[The balloon as us-- "whistlewhiffed", "kisspuffed", "flimsy-flacked" us, desperately chasing oneness.]

up into the sky goes
two lungs worth
of earth
the exhaled
soul of a boy a girl


This is one of those poems I come back to, again and again.  I pray Knott won't go lost (in Knott-speak:) in the unencased heavens whoosh-buoyed into some incoherent cluster-cloud. What irony that the books he put up on Amazon for less than four dollars (" the lowest price allowable"), of which so few sold,  are suddenly going for $99.99 (only one copy available, gobbled up for reselling) now that Knott's not here.  How kind of him to have posted the pdf's to his poems on  his blog, generous to the last.

I am grateful to Bill Knott for his kindness in allowing me to share so many of his poems and artwork, for introducing me to the work of other poets and translators; for giving me, by example,  the inspiration--and courage--to experiment, to get inside words and the spaces around them, see where it leads.  It's true,  that "most of us remain unfinished".   [Another remembered line from a Knott poem].  Maybe in the end it's not so important what didn't get finished, but what did.

Soar on, Knott.  Salut.

Bill Knott (1940-2014)

A few Blog posts from friends, colleagues, former students, readers, and other poets,

Rose Kelleher at Lost in the Forest [many links to anything by, about, and in honor of Knott]
Robert P. Baird in  The New Yorker
Elisa Gabbert at The French Exit
Mixhael Lally at Lally's Alley
Kathryn L. Burton at Kathryn
Jessica Goodfellow at Axis of Abraxas
J. Hope Stein at Poetry Crush

Joe Hutchison, at Perpetual Bird
R. M. O'Brien, at Illuminated Hypertext

A poet at A Retail Life After the MFA
Conrad Didiodata at Word Dreamer Poetics 

Lyle Daggatt at A Burning Patience"
David Bonta at Via Negativa
 Bob Arnold at Longhouse Birdhouse>/a>
Open Letters Monthly
Robert Pinsky in The Washington Post

Jan Vafidis at Vol. 1 Brooklin
John Cotter at The Poetry Foundation
Louis Mayeux at Southern Bookman
Folks at Cold Front Mag
Grant Clauser at Ulabic

Jack Kimball at Pantaloons
'tribach' at An Unambitious Blog

Ken Tucker at Muck Rack
Thurston Moore at
Michael Robbins at Michael Robbins Poet Blog
Rob McClennan at his
Stephen Kuusisto at Planet of the Blind
Vitro Nasu at Iconoclastic Incubator

Paul Belbusti at Dead Language Blog
Alex Gildzen at Arroyo Chamisa

 Richard Hell on YouTube
Staff at Emerson College
Staff of Harriet
Sydney Hermanson at Ploughshares Magazine
Folks at Book Forum

Obituary in The Boston Globe and here.

"My River"

~ ~ Bill Knott

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

A place I went to often

Mozart - Clarinet Quintet in A, K. 581 [complete]

Waiting for D.
     Thinking of D.
           Yearning for D.

D. is gone.  Those years are gone.
     Both dead, like Mozart.

A place  I still go to,
not just to remember who he was
but who I was
      and still am
and be reminded of what,
like certain music in life
(it's not all noise)
      is always there.

Nostalgia attack!  It all
comes flooding back
But you don't want to go back,
even if you could.
(Exchange it for the now?  Who would? and how?)
You're not the same, 
      and yet you are
. . .  mostly.

Saved-up scenes from flecks of  past
murmur out between the notes.
How sad and melancholy then,
how absolutely wrong at times,
as if I somehow knew but didn't; and when
finding so, look back and think,
despite it all
I've no regrets.

Rehear the melody, close the book.  It's done.
The Now, of which the Then is part,  all one,
layered, accessible,
turnonable or offable,

Monday, March 10, 2014


Hanging Out in the Playground with Words

The sung word, the hung word, the shouted word, the touted word,
the whispered word, all silenced in a hush.
The seen word, the mean  word, the heard word, the blurred word
the written word, in pencil, pen, or brush.

The saved word, depraved word, deleted word, completed word,
the word on every otherbody’s lips.
Remembered words, dismembered words, forgotten words, begotten words,
and those thrown out in little, static blips.

The vowed word, too-plowed word,  misperceived, or ill conceived;
one’s first and final word a thing of note.
Words so succinct, or indistinct, or flashy, brashy, gone-in-a-blink
you’d think one wrote from necessary rote.

Fly off the page, in seething rage, or hide inside a voice-blocked cage -
no way to sing a sorrow, joy or bliss.
Our words escape, in search of shape, or form or norm to lurch and scrape
the edges of one’s always-there abyss.

Words delay us, and betray us, might refine us, oft define us;
we can twist and turn them into rhymes.
They elude us, they intrude, plus make us think, drive us to drink,
and yes, go platitudinous at times.

Words enflame us, or defame us, sometimes shame us (if not blame us),
shock and mock us as we ply our trade.
Word-enraptured, we’re script-captured, 'ere afflicted, word-addicted
in love with love of words both sought and made.

One tries in vain to ride the plain, resize the brain; abide, refrain,
then airs the stiffened fabric just to breathe.
Only then can kept-words flow; as new ones come that you don't know.
(Does it matter how they judge the weave?)

So this was just an exercise where I have come to realize
this rhyming’s fun.  But poetry it’s not.
It’s just a bunch of lines in synch,to pass the time and make me think
‘bout words and sound abounding in the lot.

That songs we sing and words we write, so often ring as Truly Trite
(we cringe at just how bad it sometimes gets)
does not mean that we’ve lost our way or gotten stuck in too-much play.
or given up, deep-sunk in past regrets.

The snow is falling, I am stalling (should be working, 'stead of lurking).
Time to leave the wordpen; say goodbye.
Singsong's fine and yes, it rhymed, but really, now, this babblejow
is no excuse for not reaching more high.

Back to work, you.



The above is, as noted, 'playing' with words and sound. Initially undertaken merely as an exercise, in retrospect it seems to have gotten away with itself, unable to stop, unaware of its own impending monotony, where to the reader it becomes almost trance-like, just sounds, in rapid succession, echoing one another, the meaning elusive or forced.   I say that after just landing on William Michelian's blog and seeing his little rhymed poem on a wished-for spring bud.  Now that's poetry!  In the end, it's not, I think  about not reaching for something higher. It's about not getting stuck in the sandbox of play, where play becomes a substitute for doing more than just "reaching".  

Apropos this, I have, recently, become really interested in 'word sound' - looking at the phenomenon of sung (as opposed to recited) poetry vis-a-vis transmission and recognition of meaning .  I wonder if anyone's ever done an anthology of sung poetry (complete with audio).  I can think of three or four examples that should absolutely be included.  Is anyone collecting such examples?  It would be interesting to find them.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Guests at the door today


And yet the world is different from what it seems to be
and we are other than how we see ourselves in our ravings.

The purpose of poetry is to remind us
how difficult it is to remain just one person,
for our house is open, there are no keys in the doors,
and invisible guests come in and out at will.

~ ~ Czeslaw Milosz

Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

~ ~ Rumi

(translated by Coleman Barks) 

Friday, March 7, 2014

What the hell am I doing here?

                                           The weather is terrible. It’s freezing cold and rainy. 
                                           The clouds hang low, and there’s snow in the valley. 
                                           Bundled in an anotak, I stomp up a rocky slope, further into the mist.   
                                           What the hell am I doing here?

I'm an armchair traveler and today I'm virtually visiting a  remote outplace high up in the Swiss Alps, checking in at the Hotel Furkablick. 

I'm in awe:
On a wooden deck in the Furka Pass

Anneke Bokern, who's actually been there, writes:

When I ask for a room the man explains that the hotel is closed. It’s a sealed time capsule. “Nothing has changed in the rooms since the hotel’s opening in the year 1900,” he says quietly.  "They all remain in their original condition, with chamber pots and washbasins.  Because the facilities are too old fashioned, we haven't received any star guests. And we therefore can't charge enough money to make a profit from overnight stays. The pass is only open three months of the year. And its as good as impossible to find employees who want to work up here."   [1]

   If you stand on the balcony, you'll see

One would think, if you're surrounded by snow and it's still bitter cold everyoutwhere, that the virtual-travel destination today might be towards a warmer clime.  But Uncube arrived in my emailbox this morning, I took one look at those photos, and I couldn't resist.  

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Out of the Loop

 Family Communication

What's new? he calls
or emails, and is surprised
no one's told him X was sick
        or  that Y had moved.

"Well, if you were on Facebook,"
they say.  Which he's not.
So he doesn't get the news like
        EVERYbody Else
as soon as something happens.
I mean, who has time
to send out individual emails
when EVERYbody's already all connected
with EveryOtherbody already all connected
24/7 on Facebook?
Seriously.  Get with it.
This is the 21st century.

They find it weird that he goes Facebookless.
Disconnected from The Hub,
he's left in the dark,
not part of The Club.
"Come look at my photo!", a cousin invites -
on her Facebook page, of course, which
he can't see unless   . . .
he signs up to join Facebook.

"Er . . . Can you just send the image to me by email?"  he asks.
and gets the reply:

He does get their "forwards", though.
The multiple-recipient kind, group targeted, of
endless jokes about old age,
funny videos of animals that talk, or fart, or dance,
cute images of puppies or kitties  or babies,
stunning landscapes, set to music, overlaid with prominent proselytizing soul-talk script,
emotional reunions of complete strangers, to uplift him,
more jokes about aging bodies, stubborn beer bellies, stupid sayings, senior moments,
an invitation to pass along a chain-letter message to 20 close friends to show that he has empathy.

Not that  he doesn't occasionally enjoy such gifted entertainment  It's when
their habitual, knee-jerk, sent-out lookee-sees substitute for actual, personal contact.

UnFacebooked, he sinks into Looplessness -
Deconnectivitis NonIntendo.
Totally curable, though, they tell him
He just needs to, well,

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Just once

La grande Sophie - "Quelqu'un d'autre"

Everyone wants to be somebody else,
to live another life
just once in their life.