Bill Knott’s Poetry

February 13, 2010

in Poetry

Bill Knott, Laugh at the End of the World: Collected Comic Poems 1969-1999
(2000, Rochester, NY: BOA Editions, Ltd. )

Recovering from jet lag, I found myself up in the wee hours and decided to crack open the poetry of Boston-area-based Bill Knott.
I’d read many of these poems some time ago, but it was refreshing to dip back into them. The collection makes some demands upon the reader – there are wonderfully coherent and pithy poems in here – truly memorable – and there are lots that seem like impressionistic and surrealistic studies. To be sure, that variety of quality shows up in the collected works of many poets, and, if one takes on the project of reading through the body of them, one must forgive what will inevitably be less appealing. Knott, at his best, is a great ironic humorist. In his most telling moments, he brings a poignancy and longing together with the irony to great results.

The Man Who Married His Checkout Lane is a lovely erotic paean to shopping and I will never stand in a checkout lane with quite the same abandon or boredom ever again.

Unspeakable simply states:
A comma is a period which leaks.

I find this hysterically funny and amusing in the same way I find Steven Wright’s pithy but self-effacing one-liners to be funny (I had a speed reading accident the other day…)

My Favorite Word, again, very briefly, declares:
“Attentionspan” is my favorite word
because I can never finish
reading it all the way through.

Singular, pithy, and almost just a one-liner, but, in a way, funnier as a poem.

Or, in Lesson:

Even if the mountain I climbed
Proved to be just a duncecap really,
It was only on gaining its peak
That that knowledge reached me.

There is such simplicity and grace and wit that the poem, like the peak, almost seems to hover.

If you have some wee hours to ramble and mine the veins, some of the jewels to be found here are lovely.

– BADMan

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