A curious literary phenomenon is the stirring of interest in the late poet Bill Knott, occasioned by the recent publication of "I Am Flying Into Myself:Selected Poems 1960-2014."
The collection, edited by Georgia Tech poet Thomas Lux, who himself died earlier this year, has received two reviews. One, by Dan Chiasson in a recent issue of the New Yorker, might be the worst poetry review I've ever read. The second, by writer Kathleen Rooney in Sunday's New York Times Book Review, showed a sympathetic understanding of Knott's quirky work.
Rooney calls Knott, who died in 2014, "a brilliant poet and morbid eccentric," who never overcame a brutal childhood. Lux, who compiled the book by reducing an earlier volume of collected poems from 964 to 152 entries, said that Knott suffered from a lack of self-esteem, frequently feuding with his small publishers and leading a nearly reclusive life, although he had a teaching career.
As Rooney notes, Knott wrote in a range of genres, but his signature poems are deceptively simple, flavored by a surrealistic black humor. His best poems are cosmic jokes with barbed punchlines that the reader can't stop thinking about.
I began reading Knott years ago, afar hearing Lux talk about him at a Georgia Tech reading. Knott reminds me of Ogden Nash mixed with R. Crumb, or William Carlos Williams with W.C. Fields. His mordant style blends with a surprising sensitivity.
Before his death, Knott was a pioneer of Internet blogging and publishing, writing barbed criticisms of other poets and posting his work for free. Now he's enjoying posthumous success that eluded him in life.