Friday, April 13, 2007

Good Times in the Land of Knott

Earlier this year Bill Knott thought he might shut down his blog; he went so far as to delete many of the posts he'd put up (so some of the links in my earlier posts about him no longer work). He seems to have come to the realization, though, that killing the blog would have effectively left him silent, since he dislikes publishing otherwise, considers commercial book publishers vicious, etc. So he decided to keep on blogging.

He seems otherwise to be in a positive frame of mind these days. Where his blog previously used to lead with a compendium of negative reviews of his work and dismissive comments about him as a person and poet, he's now posted a gathering of the positive things reviewers and fellow poets have said about him over the years - things like

"[Bill] Knott was an incredibly important poet to me and still is; I think Bill Knott is a genius and probably the least known great poet in America. It's really kind of pathetic that he's not as well known as he was even thirty years ago because he's even better now."
—Thomas Lux, The Cortland Review (August 1999)

“Bill Knott is one of the best poets writing in America. Without question, he is the most original.”
—Kurt Brown, Harvard Review (Spring 1999)

"Bill Knott is a genius." —Tom Andrews, Ohio Review (1997)

“It is no accident that the major British and American poets of the 19th and 20th century were outsiders. . . . The most original poet of my generation, Bill Knott, is also the greatest outsider.”
—Stephen Dobyns, AWP Chronicle (1995)
And he's reposted much of his poetry - his Acting Poems, his Selected Love Poems, his Short Poems volumes One and Two, as well as worksheets for translations of Baudelaire and Montale. It's a trove of real value, some of the most distinctive poetry published in these states over the last forty years.

Having done a little translation myself, I'm fascinated by his worksheets for Montale and Baudelaire. In each, he provides a presumably provisional translation for the poem - here's Baudelaire via Knott


The ocean of verse has left in my chest
That stale ebb-tail taste of a bile blueplate;
Its heft sits bitter against my lips' crest;
Even my critics' deaths can't renovate

An appetite for this: acid reflux
My poems have all become, which in their prime
Fed vanity's veins and guts with grubsex
Enough to inspire one more ex-lifetime . . .

My heart? Is Heartburnsville. Landfill palace
Leveled ever since my fellow poets
Chewed its dumpster pews into prose-pellets.

Come share their bard-fare, their warmth and fireplace—
Eyes blazing like a holiday barrage,
They char my offal flesh long past garbage.

Followed by the workings that led him to his draft:

Enough to inspire another lifetime . . . /
Or more to inspire at least one lifetime . . .

Come share the warmth of their bard-fare fireplace—

The ocean of verse has left in my chest
The stale, ebb-tail taste of a bile blueplate—
Heft to my lips it's kept its saltcrust crest—
Heft/Half to my lips it heaves its saltcurst crest—
Half to my lips it heaves its bitter crest—
Half to my lips it hoists its bitter crest—
regurgitate heartgorged
Half to my lips regurgitates its crest—

providing a wonderful glimpse into the process of creating translations (or transversions, as Knott calls them), the complex decisions a poet must make in an effort to convey an original text into his own alien tongue.

Go check it out. Now. After all, there's no telling when it might all disappear again.

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