The late Bill Knott, born February 17, 1940, was a terrific poet who distinguished himself from nearly all other American poets by wanting to keep his poems from the public eye. For the late Thomas Lux's Paris Review appreciation of Bill, click here. Click here to read Robert P. Baird's "Remembering Bill Knott" from The New Yorker of March 17, 2014. If you can find a copy of Are You Ready, Mary Baker Eddy? the charming and sometimes hilarious book of poems Bill wrote collaboratively with James Tate, buy it. Lux (1946-2017) edited Bill's posthumous I Am Flying into Myself for Farrar, Straus and Giroux (2017).
Poems by Bill had been chosen by Jorie Graham for The Best American Poetry 1990, by Paul Muldoon for The Best American Poetry 2005, and a third time as well – and for different reasons each time he declined to be included
For The Best American Poetry 2007, Heather McHugh selected Bill’s poem “Another False Execution” from Tin House, whose poetry editor was Brenda Shaughnessy. Notified in due course by Mark Bibbins, then as now my right-hand man at BAP, Bill said no, I wrote back, and here’s the exchange.
Reading it you’ll see, I hope, why it was hard not to love Bill no matter how ornery he was. And you'll have another reason to dig into his oeuvre.
> -----Original Message-----
> From: William Knott [mailto:William_Knott@emerson.edu]
> Sent: Wednesday, January 03, 2007 3:01 PM
> To: Mark Bibbins
> Subject: RE: The Best American Poetry 2007
> Dear Mark Bibbins:
> No, I'm sorry, I can't. . .
> I don't like that poem anymore, I wish
> now I hadn't written it, and I was
> irritated when Brenda Shaughnessy
> took it for "Tin House" because
> she chose it over some better
> poems I included in the batch
> I sent her . . .
> and I'm sorry but I don't want to be
> in BAP, or Pushcart,
> my poetic career is over,
> I've retired. . .
> I'm too old for it, anyway. . .
> it's not worth the angst and all of it. . .
> I apologize, but I'm sure number 76 on
> your list will be happy to accept. . .
> Bill Knott
> >From: David Lehman
> >Sent: Jan 4, 2007 8:51 PM
> >To: William_Knott@emerson.edu
> >Cc: McHugh Heather
> >Subject: BAP 2007
> >Dear Bill,
> >Mark Bibbins sent along your note indicating that you would prefer not to have your poem "Another False Execution" appear in "The Best American Poetry 2007" on the grounds that the poem isn't good enough.
> >I'd like to take a moment to persuade you to change your mind. I think it's a damn good poem, and regardless of your present feelings about it, why not let the choice stand? After all, there are at least three of us now -- Heather McHugh, Brenda Shaughnessy (who published it in Tin House), and I -- who believe in this poem enough to want to publish it and stand behind it. Though diffidence may be admirable, there is also a case to be made that once a poem is in print it is public and readers have the right to read it and judge for themselves. That's what I think, and in any case I am quite sincere in saying that your poem will make a difference, and a positive one, to the volume in which it appears.
> >I am going to copy Heather McHugh on this letter, for she took her editorial duties very seriously and her choice of your poem for "Best American Poetry 2007" is not one that she made lightly.
> >Please think it over and let me know if you decide to change your mind.
>From: William Knott <William_Knott@emerson.edu>
>Sent: Jan 4, 2007 9:50 PM
>To: David Lehman
>Subject: RE: BAP 2007
>No, I'm sorry, but I can't do it.
>It doesn't matter whether the poem is good or
>bad. Even if I thought it was good, I can't
>go through this agony anymore.
>I wouldn't want it in Pushcart either. In
>fact someone nominated another poem for
>Pushcart, but I won't let them do it
>if they ask me.
>I can't take it anymore,
>I'm too worn out by it.
>If I knew then what I know now, I
>would have never begun to write poetry.
>I'm 67 years old, can't I retire?
>Why do I have to suffer this cycle over
>and over, why can't I quit. Why can't
>I just write my crummy poems and post
>them on my blog; why do I have to
>present them for judgement?
>I'm sorry, but I can't stand it anymore.
>I can't do it. . . sending the poems
>out, getting them published or rejected,
>I don't care anymore.
>I used to care. For almost five decades
>I put them into the envelopes but this
>past year?? I can't explain it.
>It's partly the heart attack I had
>this past summer, but even before that
>I had reached the point of abandonment.
>I don't send my poems out anymore, I just
>post them on my blog where anyone can
>read them or not read them as they wish. . .
>I vowed when I began the blog this past
>April that I would never submit my
>poems to any magazine ever again, and
>so far I've stuck to it. I hope I will
>die before I change my mind about
>this. Hopefully I will die before that.>
>Over the past year or so I've
>rejected book proposals from five or
>six publishers. Jonathan Galassi wanted
>to do a 240 page Selected, Iowa wanted
>to reprint a book, two local presses solicited
>me for book mss, and two others queried
>me. . .
>I would rather die than do another book
>(ironically another book I was blackmailed
>into doing has just been published
>to my shame and disgust). . .
>I wish to hell you hadn't bothered
>McHugh with this. It's nothing to
>do with her.
>And it's nothing to do with your anthology,
>either. I've been critical at times
>of it but that has nothing to do with
>I'm sorry for wasting your time with