Friends, colleagues, and students of the late poet and Emerson faculty member Bill Knott gathered last Thursday in the Bill Bordy Theater to celebrate Knott’s unique style, quirky personality, and overwhelming talent.
Knott, who died on March 12, 2014, taught at Emerson College for more than 25 years, and during his lifetime published many poetry collections. Organized by poet and alumnus Thomas Lux ‘70, who himself died in February of this year, the event invited people from around the country to share memories and read his poems.
Author Robert Fanning, Knott’s executor, spoke at the event.
“For me, it’s great to be here in this place,” he said, “And to feel like Bill is here too.”
Winner of the Iowa Poetry Prize and a Guggenheim Fellowship, Knott was noted early in his career for his short, terse poems, often littered with his signature sense of humor and romantic themes. His first collection, The Naomi Poems, published under the pseudonym Saint Geraud, garnered him both critical and public attention.
Some of his most famous poems include “Death” and “The Closet.” He was known for his big-publisher releases, but also his self-published books. He was also a visual artist, incorporating many of his own paintings into his collections.
Speakers on Thursday included Denise Duhamel, Emily Kendal Frey, Leigh Jajuga, Emerson faculty members Peter Shippy and John Skoyles, amongst others.
Shippy and Skoyles hosted the event, one of many in the Writing, Literature, and Publishing Department’s Reading Series.
Jack Gantos, a student and later a colleague of Knott’s, remembered playing jokes on his former professor, and even Knott’s everyday uniform of sweaters and oversized khakis that “could stretch up to his thighs, if he wanted.”
Many recalled his sharp wit, his big heart, and his sometimes idiosyncratic behaviors.
Attendees read from a recent collection edited by Lux, I Am Flying into Myself: Selected Poems, 1960-2014, which was for sale at the event.
William Corbett, friend of Knott’s, shared memories of Knott and read some of his poems.
Alluding to Knott’s “Poem (How I Lost My Pen-Name),” he said, “I think we can imagine [Knott’s] alert, intelligent face staring down at us.”
“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