A while ago someone whom I have very little respect for (for various reasons) called me ‘The Dutch Bill Knott’. Now I’m not the most well-read man on the planet, as I spend most of my time contemplating eastern european and russian poetry, and i’m not very fast at that – in fact i severely distrust fast readers, who seem to me infected with a sort of rush-rash that can’t in any sort of way be combined with a true interest in someone’s work. I’m not naive – over the years I have learned that very few of the people who claim to have an interest in poetry actually do. So as I never heard of Knott but was compared to him I started checking the guy out. First I read some interview he did with someone. I like interviews, because it’s quite easy to tell from them if someone has something to say or is just another finger in the dreary vanilla-dyke of instant poetry. The interview showed a highly intelligent fellow, so i decided to order his book. Knott has been consistently publishing his collected works, since many many years, and all the time he improves it, adds to it, and republishes it.
Today the book arrived. A huge work of 476 pages filled to the brim with poetry. As I was doing my morning walk i was contemplating moving back to Mierlo contemporary, because i was worried about my daughters education and it seemed like the school refused her somehow – a matter that was solved later. Anyway, the book arrived, I opened it and the first poem I read was about a suicidal man who was about to jump unto the street, when he sees an ant walking before his feet, after which he starts to wonder wether he should jump on the street or jump on the ant. And as ‘Mierlo’, the town i was thinking about, means ‘Ant Town’ I found that peculiar.
I read for about two hours and was amazed at the scope and the brilliance of this work. I might be a slow reader, but I’m not a slow decision maker – i felt this ranks amongst the best poetry I have ever read.
Strangely, however, Bill Knott is not ‘well received’ in so-called ‘literary circles’ in the US at all. He got tuns of negative reviews, very aggressive negative reviews, and reading his poetry such aggression is really inexplicable. So as I’m slowly starting to call myself a ‘philosopher’ more than a ‘poet’ I felt it sort as my obligation to spend a few thoughts on that.
Bill Knotts crime is that he sends poems. Well, sure, everyone does, but what you do not understand, perhaps: there are hidden ‘rules’ in the literary scene that dictate how you should ‘behave’ in order to be granted success. One of these ‘rules’ is that you can never show the rejections. It’s all about playing fair weather, and hiding the real ‘map’ of the world of literature, which is composed of both acceptance and rejections. Now, what Bill Knott actually did was being completely open about everything. He simply made the rejections part of his work. He immediately was treated by the community as a complete parasite. Granted, a lot of the bad reviews are simply by people who have no significant talent and have no business having an opinion about poetry in the first place. But what is truly interesting is this: we live in a society where a man can be considered a criminal just for sending poetry, and being honest about the rejections. Sounds absurd? Well, it is.
It’s really all about the Victorian qualities of the publishing world. It’s filled to the brim with etiquette, hidden rules, and snakes, absolute snakes. The sad part is that this giant industry has managed to completely destroy any sort of true canonization mechanism. We see this in the music industry: there is simply no way any new artist can make it into any ‘Canon’, no matter how brilliant he is. As long as this ‘industry’ is there we will never see a new contemporary Mozart or Bach: only the most pious, the most mediocre, the most diplomatic sort of suckups are allowed into its upper echelons, and by the time they get there the minute bit of talent they originally had vanished.
In one of the early poems in this book, which resembles more of a ‘Magnum Opus’ than anything else I’ve seen in poetry (well maybe Nazim Hikmet’s ‘human landscapes’ has simular scope) Knott calls himself ‘The Mourner’ and the poem makes it clear he has become the spirit of this death-mirror to such extent that we now all crazily depend on him for any idea of justice. It’s not a joke – I can feel Knott around. He really is the mourner, and you, reader of this article: if you have any courage left in your soul, then buy the works of this magnificent poet, that in any decent sort of society would have been lauded and revered a long, long time ago.