Knowing "Bill" Knott: The Man and the Poet by Caitlin Krause

Original post at: http://www.thewoventalepress.net/2017/04/04/knowing-bill-knott/

“Only you can resurrect the present. People
need your voice to come among them like nakedness,
to fuse them into one marching language in which the word
   “peace” will be said for the last time.
Write slogans, write bread that pounds the table for silence,
write what I can’t imagine: words to wake me and all those
who slump over like sapped tombstones when the generals
    talk.
—”To American Poets,” Saint Geraud (1940-1966),
The Naomi Poems: Corpse and Beans (1968)

Bill Knott shook me awake with these words, written via his pseudonym Saint Geraud, published posthumously. A riddle within a riddle, words as razor sharp and crystalline as one could wish for. I didn’t have to think about why they were true or why I liked them, for that matter—they spoke what I wanted to say, somehow. Without justification. They had the means, and the nerve, and when the book Knowing Knott was published in early 2017, I devoured it as one of the many admirers of his words.

The collection of essays, masterfully edited by Steven Huff, reads much like a great mystery caper, jumping forwards and backwards in time, recounting events from multiple angles, offering testimonials and even alibis. There are crimes; there are secrets. Some are revealed; others are left alone, and much is left up to us to mull over and reach our own conclusions. Readers are along for the ride, in this search that seems, at first, to be quite simple: follow the trail of words to find the man; to uncover his messages and meanings. Was the elusive truth we all seemed to be seeking there, all along, hiding in plain sight?

Perhaps Bill knew as well as anyone the meaning of integrity—yes, I will call him “Bill”, not “Mr. Knott” or simply “Knott,” in favor of familiarity, pledging truth, thinking that the source would prefer it this way. In a media culture of paparazzi, voyeurism, and fanatical self-promotion, online and off, what does it mean to let oneself be known? What of trust? What of kinship and community? The richness of discovery in this compendium is that, in this search for Bill, everything’s brought out on the table: philosophy, mortality, humor, poetry, love, redemption, intimacy.  What remains is an enduring power that could be his legacy.

It might seem rather tabloid-ish, even vulgar, to focus on the man and personal details of his life instead of the work—that is to say, the words themselves. After all, how often does the reader’s suppositions about the confessional nature of writing leverage itself on the lure of that reveal, and the rare vision into the sanctum sanctorum, sometimes at a reader’s expense? I am not looking to analyze Bill; nor am I looking to pick through scattered pieces of a life to make my own assessment. I initially thought that to do so—to write about the man behind these essays; the man who created such brilliant poetry—would be a true sacrilege. Yet I have changed my mind in regard to Bill…

In the introduction to Knowing Knott, Steven Huff says, “I have often told students that if we’re sincere, if we are truly working hard on our poems, then we are engaged in a serious effort to explore what it means to be human… Being Bill Knott is not something you should try at home. It could be argued that ruminating on his idiosyncrasies, his furies, as well as his kindnesses, so well detailed in this book, casts a distorting shadow on his work. But no, the anecdotes are illuminating, the difficulties and crossed swords are somehow lessons in the school of the human soul.”

Agreed. One could say, as readers, as writers, as teachers—however we arrive—we are each more human—or, rather, more attuned and aware of our own human-ity—when confronting Bill through this book’s anecdotes and stories, alongside his poetry. Perhaps we, too, fly into ourselves.

Those are Bill’s words, flying into ourselves. And, just who was the “self” of Bill, often contained and reserved? Through the book, we see multiple angles of the same scenes, viewed through different eyes, with varied emotional tones and relationships the authors have to Bill himself. Complex themes exist about Bill and his life, producing quite a knotty sketch, true to his surname. Bill was contradictory: passionate on-stage performer; withdrawn off-stage introvert. Wearing thrift-store cast-offs; extravagant in supporting friends in need. He was the enlightened Zen-like monk, and the voice of the bawdy imp, ready to shock and awe with words cutting straight to the truth of a moment. Dedicated, driven, and often dissatisfied, an advocate for wabi-sabi and kintsukuroi. Bill knew that there was something beautiful in the broken. Still, quick to scorn and denigrate his own work; indulgent in doling out deserved praise of others. Elusive, Bill was ghost-like, known to haunt bookshops carrying his work, planting stacks of his books on prominent tables. He gave chapbooks and art away to friends and admirers, yet could barely make eye contact when introduced, seemingly feeling an urge to disappear. In his words, “Nothingness has its own niche.” What emerges is a medleyed assemblage that we might think pastiche if we didn’t have such authentic voices giving testament to Bill’s true nature.

The essays document encounters with one of the most iconic, elusive, electric, and original poets of the past century, whose astounding words are, as Thomas Lux says, “among the most beautiful poems that I have read in any language.” As Timothy Liu says, “I let them work their magic on me.” His poetry is lasting. Stuart Dischell says, “I still believe that Bill’s poems remain among the most memorable in the English language. His lines come to me often and in random moments. His work has indelibly transformed the world for me, the first principle of the Surrealist.”

This is a treasure trove of collected histories; accounts that are as beautiful to read for their structure and sound as for content. Fifteen essays, plus an introduction by Steven Huff, play off one another to create something nuanced, balanced, even synchronous in their collective dynamic. As a whole, the book reads with the musicality of an album, from the wry wisdom of Stephen Dobyns’s opening “Bill Knott,” to complexity with Star Black’s expansive, exquisite “Loving Bill,” and measured frustrated affection and effective frustration in Jonathan Galassi’s “(Not) Publishing Bill Knott.” Striking emotional chords, Thomas Lux speaks about Bill’s contradictions and self-sabotage; John Skoyles gives us an intimate glimpse into uncompromising integrity and compassion. There are elements of surrealism in DeWitt Henry’s “Visiting Bill Knott,” friendship and philosophy in Stuart Dischell’s “On Human Stilts,” and elegiac beneficence in Robert Fanning’s closing “May Eagles Guard Your Grave.”

<“Bill Knott Giving a Poetry Reading,”Emerson College Archives and Special Collections Digital Gallery, accessed March 31, 2017. >

This is, of course, emphatically not a Knott summary—neither the essays nor this article can provide some sort of summation. These are snapshots; I offer some visions from the pages. Every contributor, including Michael Waters, Peter Jay Shippy, Timothy Liu, William Corbett, Chad Reynolds, Leigh Jajuga, casts a rare light on Bill, giving him a special luminescence; creating a certain significance. They each tell us what it means to know someone, or to attempt to know them, which is a rare dedication and an art in itself. Perhaps poets know this best, as the listeners who bear witness, and who echo back a form of truth and beauty that has the power to move the world.

At AWP in Washington, DC, this year, there was a tribute to Bill Knott. The room was crowded; filled with his former students, friends, colleagues, admirers, fans…filled with those, like myself, who came to hear his poetry; to share a story about him. Connection. Ironic that we looked to connect and honor someone who seemed to dodge the spotlight. Bill has touched many lives; he might have been pleased to see the number there, yet perhaps he would also be unnerved by the attention. Who knows? After all, Knowing Knott is an acknowledgement of contradictions. Yet, maybe he would like it that way, and say, To hell with it. He lived how he lived, unapologetically, caringly, with verve and passion for his work, his students, and the power of words. Every essay corroborates the story of a legend; the evidence of daily dedications and immense genius that often belied its own brilliance…it’s all in the text.

Marvel that he gave his poetry, so freely, often at odds with publishers themselves, in order to make the language even more accessible, even more open. That openness, trusting us to know what to do with the words, is the great gift that lets us know exactly where Bill stood: he was on our side.

- Caitlin E. Krause

Copyright 2017 Woven Tale Press LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Speeding Toward the Future at the Pace of Now: Mindful Global Mindset by Caitlin Krause

"How to Survive Our Faster Future" is the subtitle of my current read: Whiplash (by Joi Ito and Jeff Howe). We're living in a "VUCA" world, characterized by volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. Not only is change inevitable, its constancy and rapidity can add to levels of stress and anxiety-- unless we decide to see VUCA as opportunity. Embracing the emerging future prompts a feeling of open possibility, and a curiosity to discover and realize our greatest potentials, in all sorts of ventures. We’re undoubtedly living in times of rapid change and high demand; times of immense challenge. I certainly feel it– all I need to do is glance at daily news headlines to have a feeling of perspective and urgency. This is where mindfulness, wise leadership and global perspective give an advantage, yielding a Mindful Global Competency mindset.

We want to ensure that the work we’re doing is valued; we want to know that it matters and matches our goals and commitments. We strive to maintain a sense of balance, as we navigate this complex world, maintaining focus and resilience while maximizing our capabilities. In addition, the global corporate culture and increased connectivity require even more flexibility, and broader skill sets that encompass a range of capacities, including emotional intelligence and empathy.

Instead of feeling daunted, it’s the ideal time for us to invite some mindfulness into the equation. Here we are in a complex, fascinating environment, ripe with opportunity. The field of global mobility and intercultural exchange has never been more exciting– and, there has never been a higher demand for these skills and abilities, across all industries. Integrating mindfulness values and practices into a global competency model that embraces a flexible, resilient mindset has significant long-term benefits for career, health, well-being and happiness.

Embedded in mindfulness is deeper gratitude: an appreciation for what is present, in the current moment, even as we set-goals and look toward the emerging future.

In a globalized working culture, mindfulness is especially valuable because it gives agency back to the individual. It gives a better sense of stability, even in situations that might be beyond our ability to anticipate and fully control. Because of this, mindfulness also increases our connection capacity in place of fragmentation. In other words, mindfulness creates community.

We are able to reach out and connect with others more easily, because we are more self-aware, with developed skills of resiliency. We are confident, not despite challenges, but because of them. In Stanford researcher Carol Dweck’s seminal book Mindset, she relates this capacity to growth mindset. It’s all about mindfulness, self-awareness, and embracing the rigor instead of denying or avoiding it.

We live in the midst of a global corporate climate that is rife with burnout, stress and depression. Recent studies cite stress and burnout as the top threat to workplace health, resulting in great losses across all quality measurement areas, including employee work satisfaction, job retention, company culture, and revenue. The rate of burnout continues to increase each year; mindfulness is seen as a top strategy and method to provide burnout prevention. Instead of succumbing to this threatening trend, looking at establishing an environment that promotes the best, most adaptive and advantageous state of well-being is the answer for global leadership.

As a burnout prevention measure, stress reducer, leadership and confidence booster, creativity cultivator, and overall well-being motivator and life enhancer, mindfulness serves as a necessary base layer for a holistic model of leadership, learning and global competency. It’s a lens to look through, and it can be applied to just about everything.

This could be why, when I’m asked to define mindfulness, I call it simply: “a way to be in the world”– with awareness (understanding of surrounding context), advancement (having a sense of purpose), and authenticity (detaching from judgment; focusing on situations while maintaining resilience). I use these three A’s as foundational pillars of mindfulness and wise leadership mindsets.

Recognizing our own multi-dimensional natures and experiences, we can operate with curiosity, allowing us to build our abilities and reach goals while staying grounded in this complex, inter-connected global landscape. Combining mindfulness and global competency could yield a new, even more powerful concept: mindful global competencyI'm testing it out, applying this mindset to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), education models, VR experiences and more. Stay tuned for updates as we speed toward the future, together.

Caitlin Krause is dedicated to Wise Leadership and A Better World, at global scale and prototype pace. This post is adapted from a guest blog Caitlin wrote in January 2017 that appeared in Global People Transitions. The book Whiplash, by Joi Ito and Jeff Howe, and the work of the MIT Media Lab, certainly inspire the author, who is still in-process of reading about the 9 principles. Expect a follow-up. 

360 VR Media: Immersive Storytelling Hits #ZFF for the First Time by Caitlin Krause

"Its aim is to capture ore of the ambience, and the smaller, often-untold stories that are going on all around us.

To many, that’s the nature of theater — a dynamic between the medium and the audience, and the viewer becomes an active “player”, too.

Enter the world of immersive media, including VR and 360 filming.

By combining coverage of the carpet events, premieres, interviews, scenes, and man-on-the-street/woman-on-the-platz “Humans of Zurich” snapshots, the aim is to create a full tapestry of shared experiences, in an interactive form that a user can jump in and out of, exploring as he or she may wish.

There’s nothing like a film festival to match this theme — the film itself is a VR device, arguably the most popular one of the 20th century. Now, integrating VR and 360 into our own personal spaces creates an amplification of these immersive abilities, in a personalized way. This is essentially why I believe it’s guaranteed to be the human experience of the 21st century — because it fits our human desire (which we’ve had ever since the age of Icarus) to transcend both reality and our own human limitations."

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We write who we are. by Caitlin Krause

Parker Palmer writes, “We teach who we are.” I find this to be entirely true, and I would even develop the statement, to read: We write who we are.

As writers, we write. It’s a necessity. And the act has a way of becoming us. We write our goals, hopes, apologies, love letters, vows and grocery lists. We text, tweet, befriend, commend, and forgive (though we might not forget, because we’ll want to write about it later!). We write at a shout and a whisper; a laugh and a scream. We write out our fears and our desires; we give ourselves over to the page. It is a frightening enterprise, yet we find ourselves doing this, again and again.

Yes, we write. We are storytellers by nature, perhaps from the most primitive times in our human ancestry. We wish to express our truest selves, to record, to amplify, and to pass down our stories and make a mark, in a sense. To whom are we talking? That could be the question, as blogs proliferate… Still, we write for the sheer act of writing itself.

Several years ago, a friend asked me, “Why do you write?” Reasons flickered through my mind, each a plausible explanation, yet not exactly correct. ”I write because it’s there,” was my response, in a vague imitation of Mallory. In truth, there is no one justification for my writing, and my answer was pure and true. I write because it exists, and I exist, and we are one and the same.

I write because now, when I am swimming, I have thoughts that I don’t want to leave to drown at the bottom of the lake.

I write because tonight, biking downhill toward home, the breeze seemed to whisper some thoughts in my ear… and, for the record, the breeze is far more profound!

I write because I’m listening.

There are infinite reasons to write, and to respond to writing.

Everyone can write his/her self. When I teach writing, this is what I want to open up. I want to start a conversation. I want to start a revolution. It begins quietly, with one (sometimes virtual) pen. We write who we are, and that’s both the start and the finish.

#CuriousCollab, Creativity and Cooperation by Caitlin Krause

My number one reminder, in the midst of this process of expanding an enterprise: it’s all about connections and relationships; all about collaboration and cooperation. Creativity works the same way, for me — it’s what I call (and tweet!) #curiouscollab. It seems to be about taking what I know, and collecting and connecting with what others know; seeking new knowledge out of a curious drive, and creating new meaning and new connections that are valuable. Many people have been using the word “tribe” to represent their web of connections — my tribe seems to be the world, and I allow my own curiosity and empathy to let me step into others’ shoes, see from their views, and learn… It’s as much about differences as it is about similarities. And, by working together for a form of good — by analyzing and questioning and re-interpreting, we can collectively create something better.

Gratitude, Giving Up, and the Art of Losing by Caitlin Krause

To adopt a mindset of gratitude is a quick flip that works to also promote positive letting go, transforming my days in different ways. Instead of loss, gratitude is a gain. It looks at what is rather than what is missing. I suppose that’s the key — gratitude seems to have everything to do with mindful awareness, promoting something positive and completely within our grasp, in each moment…

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