Poet Bill Knott has Died

A few sources on the internet have reported that Bill Knott passed away Mach 12 due to complications from heart surgery.

bill knott poet

Death

by Bill Knott

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.

__________________________________

Here’s a selection of links to articles, interviews and other Bill Knott info:

Bill Knott’s blog about poetry rejection (includes scan of many rejection slips and letters).

Article on HTML Giant about his selected poems, which was to be published by FSG but he later gave it away for free as a download.

Richard Hell on Bill Knott

Bill Knott was also a painter. Here are some of his painting.

BookSlut interview with Bill Knott in which he calls Basil Bunting’s Briggflats his least favorite poem.

A Wikipedia entry that says almost nothing

A quite lengthy and interesting article on Bill Knott by John Cotter

An interview with Bill Knott on Memorious in which he talks a lot about publishing and rejection.

Something from The Rumpus

Thomas Lux is a big fan of Bill Knott

 

___

Follow on Twitter @uniambic

Advertisements

Poets on Poetry: Quotes, Mostly

What would we get if accountants and waiters and bowling alley attendants talked about their occupations the way poets do? 

Anyway…

This…

“The realm of conventionally articulate speech is not sufficient for saying what needs to be said.”

Nathaniel Mackey

“Yet the very incapacity of language to match the world allows it to do service as a medium of differentiation.”

Lyn Hejinian

“A poem’s task is to seduce—its readers or listeners must find in it something irresistible, something to which they want to surrender.”

Jane Hirshfield

“For me a poem must go beyond its setting or its particular to say outright or by subtle suggestion something about the human condition. If the gift without the giver is bare, the poem without the concept is emaciated…”

Maxine Kumin

“A poem is energy transferred from where the poet got it, by way of the poem itself to, all the way to the reader. The poem itself must, at all points, be a high energy-construct and, at all points, an energy-discharge.”

Charles Olson

but…

“Concentration on technique can absorb the attention while unacknowledged material enters the language; so technique can facilitate inspiration.”

Donald Hall

and…

“One has to know his tools, so he doesn’t work against himself. Tools make the job easier. More accuracy.”

Yusef Komunyakaa

“For it is not the greatness, the intensity, of the emotion, the components, but the intensity of the artistic process, the pressure, so to speak, under which the fusion takes place, that counts.”

T.S. Eliot

“I caution against communication, because once language exists only to convey information, it is dying.”

Richard Hugo

Ah…

“Whatever else we may think of this world—it is astonishing.”

Wislawa Szymborska

Yes…

“Every good poem asks a question, and every good poet asks every question.”

Kim Addonizio

Finally:

Everything is gestation and then bringing forth… patience is everything.

Rainer Maria Rilke

Most poets write the same poem over and over.

Richard Hugo

Q & A on Writing with Lee Upton

Photo by CeCe Ziolkowsk

Photo by CeCe Ziolkowsk

In May I was invited to read poems at an art gallery in Hunterton NJ with Lee Upton, Warren Cooper and Upton’s daughter, Theodora Ziolkowski. The reading and venue were both wonderful and I hope to get back there again. I’d read Upton’s poetry before, particularly her book Civilian Histories (University of Georgia Press), but we’d never met. MaryAnn Miller, who curates the reading series, as well as publishes limited edition art & poetry books (Lucia Press), introduced us.

After the reading we chatted and exchanged books. I received a copy of her book Swallowing the Sea (Tupelo Press), a collection of essays about writing and the writing life. The issues discussed in this Q & A are based on that book.

Lee Upton is the author of twelve books, including five collections of poetry, a novella, and four books of literary criticism. Her short stories have also appeared widely. Her awards include a Pushcart Prize, the National Poetry Series Award, two awards from the Poetry Society of America, and the Miami University Novella Award. She is Writer-in-Residence and a professor of English at Lafayette College in Easton Pennsylvania.

You write “Our store of happiness is always in danger of being depleted.” Is a fear of running out of happiness, or running out of places to discover it, a debilitating or an energizing force for the writer? Do writers create in order to find more happiness or does that fear of running out freeze them into inactivity?

I can’t speak for other writers, but I do know that writing—for me—is a source of happiness, even though that happiness is sometimes mixed with frustration and a form of extreme yearning that can’t exactly be called happiness-inducing. The happiness I find in writing has something to do with the heightened state of concentration that writing creates.  Happiness in writing also has to do with the fact that I’m compelled to write; if I weren’t writing regularly unhappiness would be guaranteed for me.  Writing beats back despair, but because writing opens up formerly closed areas of consciousness, the act of writing can prove painful and exhausting. I’m aware of how fortunate any of us are to have writing as not only an exhilarating activity but as a kind of steady companion.  As you can see, I’m struggling here—perhaps because it is a great privilege to be able to write, and yet writing also goes beyond happiness for me.  Writing is larger than happiness and sometimes makes me face what I’d rather not face, and so the happiness writing affords comes with thistles.

I’m fascinated by the section on purity, but I’m still a little confused on what exactly you mean by the word. Can we envision purity and make it impactful on our writing, without a reference standard, something to compare everything else to? What would that standard be? I’m disposed to believe it may be something other than poetry, which of course is a particular problem for the poet.

I think you’re right to be confused by any notion of purity.  Purity is a fantasy, a phantom, a form of extreme and powerful subjectivity that changes form depending on the aspirant. (When talking about purity I’m not talking about food safety of course.)  Absolute purity in ideological terms tends to be colonizing and aggressive, and those who attempt to impose on others their own ideals of purity and its sibling, perfection, prove oppressive. The discussion of purity in Swallowing the Sea attempts to trace some of the difficulties of allowing purity to be one’s guide in writing. At the same time, I tried to give purity its due as an alluring imaginative construct that’s not easily dismissed.  Purity as a conception of the human imagination for some of us determines at least in part the way we revise our work—toward greater compression, toward elimination of anything that interrupts the culminating tensions in the poem, toward an ideal.  Our standards, which may seem instinctive even if they’re learned, threaten to purify the poem out of existence.  But if we simply dismiss the ideal of purity we fail to recognize that the conception has a hold on many of us. Our struggle with purity can be bracing and creative.  The fact that some writers have assailed purity (Neruda, for instance) testifies to the conception’s powerful grip.

In the section Poetry, Defended, Briefly, you write “in poetry more than in any other verbal genre, readers bring in an expectation …”   Do you also believe readers have a responsibility to the poet/poetry? If so, then what? And are readers today properly prepared to fulfill that responsibility? Let me make that question more practical—contemporary poets (and poetry) get criticized a lot today, by poets and non-poets alike, for being obscure, difficult, out of touch … as if the state of poetry today is all the poets’ fault. Does the reader share any of that blame?  

swallowingthesea225As a reader I can share that blame—but that’s true in any genre.  As a reader I can be too impatient, giving up on a poem before allowing even the rhythm of the lines to begin to do their work. I try to make allowances for my own impatience by eventually giving some books second and even third chances; it takes a while to know how to appreciate an aesthetic.  Often enough though, some poetry is simply not engaging or illuminating—whether it’s a difficult poem or a seemingly simple and transparent poem.  Then again, there are so many different sorts of poetries available that I tend to find plenty of work that I can respond to immediately. As you mention, it’s true that there are many poems that are difficult and obscure, and sometimes those poems fail (then again, many poems of any sort are doomed to failure).  But some poems that are difficult are haunting and even valiant and perversely lovable and even poignant because they’re so resistant to common ways of perceiving and thinking.  You mention poems that are “out of touch,” and I have to admit a special affection for poems that may be referred to as “out of touch”; those poems speak for realms of experience that are denied in our experience, reaching beyond our lived reality toward something we could never have imagined otherwise.   Then again, I think I know what you mean in certain instances: sometimes the poem that is described as “out of touch” leaves us numb; it’s untouchable not just because it’s treading air out of reach but because the poem doesn’t tug us in any direction whatsoever.  Poetry never should condescend to readers, and so a poet never needs to settle ultimately for possibilities that aren’t exciting, whether those possibilities appear superficially simple or superficially complex.

You can find many of Upton’s books here.

Review: Seven Places In America by Miriam Sagan

seven places coverFrequently while reading Miriam Sagan’s latest poetry collection, Seven Places in America, I was struck with waves of jealousy. The book is constructed around her journeys and residencies at what, at least through her writing, must be some of the most wonderful places in the country for a poet to meditate on things great and small. This is especially true for a poet like Sagan, who has an affinity for the more rustic or natural places.

Some of these places were official writers’ retreats, while others were just places that accommodated her, and she accommodated them. Either way, she made the most of these visits, as good writers can, by using the foregrounds and backdrops as gateways for her poems to pass through or stretch out within. Her poems ride “the boat of the mind/that floats on air” tacking through waterways looking for purchase. When they land on hard ground, you know it, as in “10,000 Islands,” part of a series titled Ever/Glade (which, incidentally, made me think of Karen Russell’s novel Swamplandia.

I longed for departure

As if it were love

As if it would take me out

Of myself, of my accustomed way—

Sandbar of white pelicans

Lifts off, wheels into the sun

Silver flash of fish before the prow

Maze of low islands, one after the other,

Gives way

to open water.

Do you see what she did there? The very quiet leap from the silent meditation of longing for departure to the dramatic scene of birds rising and a boat rushing among islands. For me, these poems are at their strongest when she uses her environment as the A in an ongoing Q & A with themselves.

While I found poems to relish throughout the book, I think my favorites are in part V, which were written at Stone Quarry Hill Art Park in Cazenovia, New York. Maybe being a Pennsylvanian drew me to these poems as they describe scenery very like my own home.

In the first poem in that section, Sagan uses, with dramatic effect, the refrain “body of” in a chant-like list of things you might find in any eastern woodland.

meadowlark

body of liberties

forest

body of knowledge

dream

body of research

fireflies

body of principals

That’s fun, as are a lot of the poems in this book. You can feel the author’s delight coming off the page. At the same time, there are also haunting moments, such as in “Tree House,” where the speaker reflects in attendant language (“The creaks and meows of night,/Shadows of the copper beeches.”) on the material landscape of a childhood while simultaneously acknowledging the psychological landscape.

There were moments I thought the poet may have fallen into her own traps—pushed a metaphor a little too far, took the readers’ trust for granted, but then come moments of wonderful self-awareness, as if she knows where she’s taking us and is grinning a little inside, like here, in the poem “Stone Quarry Hill”:

If this poem were Chinese

I’d say my hair is gray (which it is)

And that I haven’t heard

News of you in a long time.

If I’m being played, I’m OK with it. Even when she asks “Why must inspiration be a vista?” you know she knows the answer is more complicated than that. “An inner self/that also shifts shape” is the visita we’re really meant to contemplate: “how what we ignored or couldn’t explain/remained in plain view.”

You can buy Seven Places in America here on Amazon.

RIP Jack Gilbert “Silent and wonderfully content”

Image

One of American’s most beautiful poets, Jack Gilbert, has passed away. He was 87. He is easily the most important poet to me as a reader and as a writer.

WAKING AT NIGHT

The blue river is gray at morning

and evening. There is twilight

at dawn and dusk. I lie in the dark

wondering if this quiet in me now

is a beginning or an end.

 (from The Dance Most of All)

Some links below:

Page on Gilbert by the Academy of American Poets

Notes from a Poet’s Well-Observed Life (NPR)

Chard deNiord’s interview with Jack Gilbert.

David Orr’s review of Gilbert’s Collected Poems

LA Times feature on Jack Gilbert

Poetry Foundation page on Gilbert

A Paris Review interview from 2005  (required reading)

Poem “A Brief for the Defense”

Philadelphia Poems by Livewell, Krok and Chelius

Last weekend I went to see three Philadelphia-influenced poets read at the Manayunk Arts Center.
Here are selections from that evening.

David Livewell’s new book is Shackamaxon.

Pete Krock read from his book Looking for an Eye.

Joe Chelius has two chapbooks, Row House Yards and Taking Pitches from Pudding House Press.