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A selection of Bill Knott’s life worktestimony of his enduring, “thorny genius” (Robert Pinsky)
Going to sleep, I cross my hands on my chest.
They will place my hands like this.
It will look as though I am flying into myself.
For half a century, Bill Knott’s brilliant, vaudevillian verse electrified the poetic form. Over his long career, he studiously avoided joining any one school of poetry, preferring instead to freewheel from French surrealism to the avant-garde and back againexperimenting relentlessly and refusing to embrace straightforward dialectics. Whether drawing from musings on romantic love or propaganda from the Vietnam War, Knott’s quintessential poems are alive with sensory activity, abiding by the pulse and impulse of a pure, restless emotion. This provocative, playful sensibility has ensured that his poems have a rare and unmistakable immediacy, effortlessly crystalizing thought in all its moods and tenses.
An essential contribution to American letters, I am Flying into Myself gathers a selection of Knott’s previous volumes of poetry, published between 1960 and 2004, as well as verse circulated online from 2005 until a few days before his death in 2014. His workranging from surrealistic wordplay to the anti-poem, sonnets, sestinas, and haikusall convenes in this inventive and brilliant book, arranged by his friend the poet Thomas Lux, to showcase our American Rimbaud, one of the true poetic innovators of the last century.
I Am Flying into Myself: Selected Poems, 1960-2014 celebrates one of poetry’s most determined outsiders, a vitally important American poet richly deserving of a wider audience.
|Publisher:||Farrar, Straus and Giroux|
|Product dimensions:||5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.80(d)|
About the Author
Bill Knott was born in Carson City, Michigan, in 1940 and died in Bay City, Michigan, in 2014. His first book, The Naomi Poems, was written under the pen name St. Geraud (1940–1966) and published to great acclaim in 1968. Between 1968 and 2004, he published eleven full-length books of poems. He taught at Emerson College in Boston for twenty-five years.
Thomas Lux (1946-2017) published fourteen books of poetry and one book of nonfiction. He was Bourne Professor of Poetry at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
Read an Excerpt
I Am Flying Into Myself
Selected Poems, 1960â"2014
By Bill Knott, Thomas Lux
Farrar, Straus and GirouxCopyright © 2017 The Estate of Bill Knott
All rights reserved.
If you are still alive when you read this,
close your eyes. I am
under their lids, growing black.
TO A DEAD FRIEND
mourning clothes worn
would be white
if things were right
if opposites ruled
if truth prevailed
then me and you
would be two
instead of the one
THE GOLDEN AGE
is thought to be a confession, won by endless
torture, but which our interrogators must
hate to record — all those old code names, dates,
the standard narrative of sandpaper
throats, even their remorse, fall ignored. Far
away, a late (not lost) messenger stares,
struck by window bargains or is it the gift
of a sudden solicitude: is she going to
lift up her shadow's weight, shift hers
onto it? She knows who bears whom. In
that momentary museum where memory occurs,
more accrue of those torturers' pincers than
lessened fingernails, eyes teased to a pulp,
we beg for closeups. Ormolus, objets d'art!
A satyr drains an hourglass with one gulp.
I first loved you
Second to your gentleness
Like the blind who
Divide their lives into
Dark and dark I
Have you and your gentleness
As a detail in a painting frames that painting
In the often
Memory, your face
Is surrounded by your eyes
Of the grays of gentleness
But better than your gentleness
I love your harshness
When you talk about that prison capitalism
When you vow never to stop fighting
Until each woman and man is free
Until each woman and man is in the custody
Of their gentleness
Sunny or storm the clouds always once
Will form some sudden shape which appears
Unique, though may that same shadowstance
Recur each thirty-three point three years?
Shall heaven's cycles of beginnings
And ends hover concealed from the eye:
What blitzkrieg visits have its big bangs
Planned; whose planet-kills queue that blue sky.
Their blast orbits blind deciphersight —
Or can reconnaissance flights thrust up
Agents to infiltrate that great height,
Stealth probes properly trained to snoop deep.
On earth secrets beget enemies ...
Clandestine torture, covert sortie —
Let's intell-strip bare those star countries.
A third of the way through his thirty
Third year we hoisted up our best black
Op to spydrop us down more data;
The turncoat never reported back,
(Codename: Christ) the dirty traitor.
PARABLE FROM CHILDHOOD
Something about a pond, and on the pond
a paper boat; something about a child's
act, dropping a pebble upon that boat
to study the effect: but then to let
other pebbles fall to see if it holds,
to kneel there spilling them one after one
until, until finally ? If I weigh
this poem down with much more, it too will sink —
Writing my poems of a boy on the brink
has shown how ripples horizoned by sky
remain the only real cargo aboard
whatever that craft that unmoored us was,
and yet why he treasured such passages.
Saying they be lost we would launch each word.
ADVICE FROM THE EXPERTS
I lay down in the empty street and parked
My feet against the gutter's curb while from
The building above a bunch of gawkers perched
Along its ledges urged me don't, don't jump.
Like all children, you were a de facto
Member of the Flat Earth Society,
Believing nothing but what you could see
Or touch or whatever sense led act to
Fruition: mudpies made summer beneath
A tree whose measured shade endowed decrees
Between light and dark: such hierarchies
Gave you implicit, a sophistic faith —
(Fallacious fellowship!) — Youth's adherents
Ignore the fact that most factions reject
Their lyric league (which only fools have stayed
Striplings of) and none condone its nonsense:
No one loves that vain solipsistic sect
You'd never join, whose dues you've always paid.
Summer is entered through screendoors,
and therefore seems unclear
at first sight, when it is in fact
a mesh of fine wires
whose haze has confused the eyes?
What if we never entered then —
what if the days remained like this,
a hesitation at the threshold of itself,
expectant, tense, tensile
as lines that crisscross each other
in a space forever latent
where we wait, pressed up against
something trying to retain its vagueness.
at night one drop of rain
falls from each star
as if it were being lowered
on a string
and yet that storm of plummets
is never enough
to wet any of the planets
that pass through it
only the blackness the space
between us is washed
away by these singular
lettings-down of water
distance is washed away
all the worlds merge
for a liquid moment
our island eyes
and suddenly we understand
why umbrellas love
To swim in water colored green
means you may never reach the shore —
but if the waves are blue, then you
might retrieve your stroke and strike more.
Past surface shades could find the one
arranging dust, the hue your own
adequately echoes, earth tone.
Neither primary nor pastel,
its prism all but shallow bathes
every island that can be found
in scenes preserved in paint: it saves
the picturesque yet quickly drowns
our honed harbor, your wake, your wake
says, flowing home beneath no ground.
BY THE RIVER BAAB
We know that somewhere far north of here
the two rivers Ba and Ab converge to form
this greater stream that sustains us, uniting
the lifeblood length of our lands: and we believe
that the Ba's source is heaven, the Ab's hell.
Daily expeditions embark upcountry to find
that fork, to learn where the merge first occurs.
Too far: none of our explorers return. Or
else when they reach that point they themselves
are torn apart by a sudden urge to choose —
to resolutely take either the Ba/the Ab, and trace
good or evil to its spring. Each flips a coin
perhaps, or favors whichever one the wind's
blowing from at that moment. Down here
even we who have not the heart to venture
anywhere that would force us to such deep
decisions, even we, when we hold that glass of
water in our hand, drink it slowly, deliberately,
as if we could taste the two strains, could somehow
distinguish their twin flow through our veins.
SUNSET AND NOON: MARJORY P.
Each face strikes a different hour in the heart
The final tolling it will be yours
(Its profile's panels on which are sleep-lacquered-eye
The golden flights and returns of an unblemished wound)
Like a blind person reading smoke signals, I touch
The face foretold as yours
(It's like a boney honey in the sunset, pale laughter of leeches,
a teardrop (that Rosetta Pebble leading to the eventual decipherments
of all things in the sky: sunset and noon) and if you've
started thinking about now that this is a long line
you're wrong cause this is no line this is a caress and
it won't stop until it reaches your smile of permanent collisions)
Pale laughter of leeches, the still-unblemished wound
Then to rise by noon when the horizon's tug-of-war is raging
To sink by noon in a white studio embracing
— The sky directionless as children who keep getting kissed on
top their heads
They turn thus way and that, dizzy, mad.
At least once a day,
to ensure that my facial
compatibility with God's is nil,
On human stilts.
To my right lower leg a man is locked rigid;
To the left a woman, lifelessly strapped.
I have to heave them up,
Heft them out and but they're so heavy (heavy as head)
Seems all my strength
Just take the begin step —
All my past to broach a future. And on top of that,
They're not even dead,
Those ol' hypocrites.
They perk up when they want to, they please and pleasure themselves,
It's terrible. The one consolation:
When they make love,
To someone who's far or close enough away appears it appears then
Like I'm dancing.
PAINTING VS. POETRY
Painting is a person placed
between the light and a
canvas so that their shadow
is cast on the canvas and
then the person signs their
name on it whereas poetry
is the shadow writing its
name upon the person.
Going to sleep, I cross my hands on my chest.
They will place my hands like this.
It will look as though I am flying into myself.
POEM (HOW I LOST MY PEN-NAME)
I wrote under a pen-name
One day I shook the pen trying to make the name come out
But no it's
Like me prefers clinging to the inner calypso
So I tossed the pen to my pet the
Wastebasket to eat
It'll vomit back the name
Names aren't fit
For unhuman consumption
But no again
It stayed down
I don't use a pen-name anymore
I don't use a pen anymore
I don't write anymore
I just sit looking at the wastebasket
With this alert intelligent look on my face
If I had a magic carpet
I'd keep it
Right in front of me
Perpendicular, like a door.
Four AM, nothing moving, no hurry,
dawn still has time to be choosy
selecting its pinks. But now a breeze
brushes across me — the way my skin
is cooled off by the evaporation
of sweat, this artistry, this system
sombers me: when I am blown from
the body of life will it be refreshed?
I dread the color of the answer Yes.
THE DAY AFTER MY FATHER'S DEATH
It's too complex to explain,
but I was already in
the orphanage when dad died;
and so that day when I cried,
to keep the other children safe
from my infectious grief
they left me in lockdown
in some office where I found
piles of comicbooks hid
which they had confiscated
from us kids through the years,
and on through wiped tears
I pored quickly knowing
this was a one-time thing —
this quarantine would soon end —
I'd never see them again:
I'd regret each missed issue,
and worse than that I knew
that if a day ever did come
when I could obtain them,
gee, I'd be too old to read
them then, I'd be like him, dad.
EVERY RIFT WITH ORE
How fiercely foilsome the facial knife shivs
its two blades up to where the forehead ends
as wound-deep-wedged widow's-peaks: how weakly
the old hero hair-line fights back and fends,
each pass of day fewer gray strands save me —
how deadly dull's the duel our sword lives.
The closer it gets to the sea the more
it aches for its source, the wound
that sprung it from the ground.
TO THE EMBLEMATIC HOURGLASS OF MY FATHER'S SKULL
The night that dies in me each day is yours:
Hour whose way I stare, yearning to terra
Firma my eye. There. Where a single hair
Would be a theater curtain I could cling
Behind, dreading my cue, aching to hear
What co-hurrah. More, more of leaves that fall
Consummate capsules, having annaled all
Their veins said! Printout printemps. And yet
(Altars our blood writes a blurb for god on)
Can one ever envy enough his skeleton's
Celebrity. Can any epitaph
Be adequate repartee for your laugh.
Days lived by me each night say less than it.
While sleep in ounces weighs me wanting.
Feeling as you wrote that the cancer quote
Is on its way upstairs to the throat
One breast had already flown migrant
Heart de facto amazon only the sea remained
Like a jealous mattress an old pillow stuffed
With insomnia's phonebills the sea
Is there to throw oneself at at dawn late
Up all night over a poem called Voy a
Dormir and which says this better than this
(Each time I read one by you I revise
Myself my suicide is to be me instead of you)
Sea that swallowed your poet throat
Does not for the having of it sing less
And besides only that cancer tried to float
You know your name
Seems to contain
More syllables in
All other mouths
Than mine I hear
I hear these voices
Waves coming ashore
Add long a's
As they say it
Then sometimes the wind
Puts an o in
The middle and
It with e
Whenever I hear it
Sighed by these things
I must stop and listen
To my lips
The whole world's
As if those
Were the reason
You were not answering
As if they
Were the reason you
Were not here
Beside me and
My saying it right
My getting it exact
Is all it would take
To call you back.
BRIGHTON ROCK BY GRAHAM GREENE
Pinkie Brown must marry Rose Wilson
to keep her mouth shut about the murder
which the cops don't know wasn't no accident —
Pinkie has a straight razor for slashing,
a vial of acid for throwing into,
a snitch's face. He dies in the end. The end
of the book, I mean — where, on the last page,
"Young Rose" hurries out of church to pray
that her Pinkie has left her preggy-poo ?
Now, this kid — if he was ever born — joined
a skiffle group in '62 called Brighton
Rockers, didn't make it big, though,
just local dances and do's. Rose,
pink, brown, all nonelemental colors, shades
of shame, melancholy, colors which, you
get caught loving too much, you get sent up
to do time — time, that crime you didn't,
couldn't commit! even if you weren't
born — even and if your dad he died with
that sneer — unsmooched his punk's pure soul, unsaved —
Every Sunday now in church Rose slices
her ring-finger off, onto the collection-plate;
once the sextons have gathered enough
bodily parts from the congregation, enough
to add up to an entire being, the priest sub-
stitutes that entire being for the one
on the cross: they bring Him down in the name
of brown and rose and pink, sadness
and shame, His body, remade, is yelled at
and made to get a haircut, go to school,
study, to do each day like the rest
of us crawling through this igloo of hell,
and laugh it up, show pain a good time,
and read Brighton Rock by Graham Greene.
Excerpted from I Am Flying Into Myself by Bill Knott, Thomas Lux. Copyright © 2017 The Estate of Bill Knott. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
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