Aug 3, 2011

Advice for Mister Knott

Bill Knott poses a thorny question here: Having seized control of his work, and in the process pissed off Farrar, Straus and Giroux's Jonathan Galassi, who balked at letting Knott's last FSG volume The Unsubscriber go out of print, so that Knott could begin publishing poems from it via Lulu; having run into the perplexing situation that critics won't review his self-published volumes, and bookstores won't stock them, nor libraries swell their shelves with them; having, that is, had a poetic reality check, Knott is now wondering whether he should not, in fact, offer his almost finished Selected Poems (selected, it's important to note, not by Knott but by a hired editor, a pro evidently, someone whose taste he felt he could trust) to a "real" publisher, an FSG, for example, though doing so would open him to rejection, which wounds him, as it wounds us all, but Knott more than me, for example, because I know (as he knows) that his work is distinctive, significant, nonpareil in American letters, whereas mine is not—it is simply not Knott!—and would he survive, he wonders, the slings and arrows, etc., and the self-doubt, the anger, the giddy despair, the attendant night sweats, etc. Well, I have to say that if it were me, and I had a Selected Poems (I started one, once—but that's another story), and knowing what I know about my relative inconsequence as a poet, nevertheless I would risk the attempt to find a "real" publisher, because, as Knott has discovered, there is a lot more to publishing than printing the writing; there is a whole realm of blurberation and promotion, the generation of critical excitement, which the right book from the right publisher at the right time can produce, and of maintaining relationships with libraries that yield standing orders, and with bookstores the same, so that the book will have a fighting chance of reaching whatever audience may be out there; and because these considerations would make me risk it, I think Knott should risk it, because I can't help but believe that there are publishers out there who know damn well who and what he is—that is, a poet, the real McCoy—and who will want to trade a little of their luster for a lot of his. It's a fair trade, is what I would tell him—what I am telling him, or suggesting at least—and there's nothing degrading about it, and if there is he can rail about it later, after the book is published, which might be a good thing anyway because all publicity is good publicity, as they say, while all poetry is not good poetry, and if you're writing good poetry, as Knott is doing and has been doing for what? forty years?, then you owe your poetry the risk involved with finding a "real" publisher. Besides, I have wondered what will happen to Lulu authors upon their demise, that is, presumably their accounts will expire and the books become unavailable; and I hate thinking of Knott's poems someday being as unavailable as Knott himself must, being mortal, eventually be; but a publisher with luster will keep a poet with luster in print, by hook or by crook. So again, I say go for it, risk it, find that publisher with real luster, Mister Knott.
[With stylistic apologies to Juan José Saer]


  1. I think none of the well-intentioned Mr. Knott's poetic energies ought to be placed in "finding a 'real' publisher" but in writing only. The work must come first, always. It'd be a shame for a talented individual to misdirect his energies in this way.

    Perhaps a sort of Pascalian wager is in order: even if none of Bill Knott's poetry were to be published, he ought to write as if it will be because then he's being a writer first instead of a promoter of his work, & writing and self-promotion tend to work against each other.

  2. It depends on one's personality, I think—the question of whether or not self-promotion harms the work. I don't think it harmed Whitman; but Emily D. certainly might have been derailed by such efforts. Of course, my advice to Mr. K. is based on my own situation, which is ... well, I write only when moved to write and am not moved to write as often as other poets are, though the percentage of dreck I produce (I mean the stuff I recognize as dreck) is surely second to none. I'm also talking to myself, perhaps, since I send work out only in spurts; I have a book-length manuscript that I've submitted to only three publishers in three years, not because I'm particularly wounded by their rejections but because submitting manuscripts bores the crap out of me. So I'm giving advice I don't follow myself while instead following yours! And now, here I am, misdirecting my energies into this comment when I could be producing more dreck. Gad! This labyrinth is endless....

  3. as you might imagine
    I ALMOST popped-off a comment yesterday
    but was knee-deep in a reply to a friend's new book
    just published by a small press in an edition of 100

    so I said/wrote: " (what is now needed) is legitimate way into another reality ... distinct from the herd's mimicker-isms (ad nauseum) where not even a freshly illegitimate (in terms of society) way can (or) does intrude."

    anyway write and draw how you like (every day) and die happy
    "writing (as Olson said) IS publishing"

    things will rise (and/or) fall on their own

    all of this angst over Fame & Fortune
    falls into the category of is all so Horse

    BK's protestationing is part of his persona ...

    he, like the rest of us has become what he has pretended to be....
    some-fine-way to "Go Out"

    ..... kicking and screaming
    I for three, appreciate his attitude


    I off into another soft-porn poem/book let's see, an opening:

    from her summer dress
    into my reveries

    and the coffee

  4. Olson was wrong about many things, and "writing IS publishing" is one of them. (I haven't run across his statement myself, but you know his work much better than I do, and it certainly sounds like Olson!) I just read this wonderful interview with Roberto Juarroz about his relationship with Antonio Porchia. In it, he notes that "Porchia, at the request of his friends, had self-published his Voices in two small editions," and tells the story of how Porchia ended up donating the unsold copies, which was nearly all of them, to an organization that provided books to small local libraries throughout Argentina. This was how his work was discovered by ordinary Argentines and how it came to be discovered and translated first into French, then into English, etc. Porchia himself never had to perform, do book tours, attend literary soireés, or suffer any of the other activities associated with PoBiz. Publishers helped his work find readers, although—and this is significant—finding that audience began with Porchia's self-publication. Had he left his work in manuscript, only a handful of friends would ever have known about it. This is why Juarroz's comment on self-publication makes so much sense: "People look down on this type of publication, but they should really pay attention to them: they involve an irreplaceable effort, sacrifice and endurance. As Gaëtan Picon says, the most valuable works of art are always born in the face of a resistance, not only internal—the writer’s inability or struggle with language—but also external." The internal struggle, the writing, comes first—but it is not publication. This is why I think Mr. Knott ought to pursue it. If he ends up being published well, more people will read him and he will, in fact, have more time for his writing, because he won't have to select, arrange, design, upload, and promote his self-published books—which, I hope I've made clear, I consider a worthy activity!

  5. all ways one comes (and goes) at getting a thing a poem a piece of art a novel a new hairdo ..

    any way to get "it" looked at or read
    the right way

    the poet, the poem, the reader
    ....that's an holy trinity

    regardless of who does what to whom or why (just don't murder someone or jump off of that Berryman Bridge or that Lew Welch Mountain)

    you got yer head screwed on right way, Joe

    I appreciate your sanity & will, also look forward to this anthology


  6. I am filing away your comment about my sanity in case I ever need you to testify in court on my behalf, Kokie. Just a heads up!

  7. thanks for the forewarning

    maybe we will both be charged with that High Crime of
    Impersonating A Poet ?
    They tried to get me twice in the 70's:
    -once they accused me of being a member of a gang ..

    a card-carrying member of the Lang Gang I demanded a jury of my peers the jury selection process dragged on for 22 years they didn't know any of my peers

    so, after costing the star 12.3 trillion dollars they dropped the case...

    - the other time they tried that old tax evasion ploy...
    ( the same charge they nailed Al Capone on)

    they wanted to know where all the $$$ was from selling my poetry books
    they could only find 12 sales over 19 years .. ALL 12 copies of my Butcher of Oxen was bought by my mother
    so, that was considered a gift
    and not income

    so, yeah well drive them nuts get the case thrown out go on Oprah and become Rich & Famous.... Just like
    Bob Arnold

    we can plead 'temporary insanity" K.


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