“The ways they praise have lapsed”

Stigmata Errata Etcetera
poetry by Bill Knott; collages by Star Black
Saturnalia Books

Knott has no use for mourners and their “ignorant verities”, he is up against the dilemma, this is his account of it. He has two sides of the question, like the Schoolmaster. To the rest he says a hello and a goodbye there are, so they will not understand him wrongly.

“All the ways they praise have lapsed,” but the silo empty of grain is an oversight, a strange illusion. A balloon doesn’t pop in the master barber’s hands, but so it must. Amid so many styles (“Pageboy”), “most of the time I’d like to rhyme that / maybe-mussed-a-bit muse Erato’s ringlet”. He knows very well that his hauteur and disdain are liable to go wrong, yet he is clear-eyed, “Time is thin in the arms of a machine,” and he is not deceived by his signature.

Babel is everywhere, also Pisa’s Tower, Galileo’s experiment. There is the immaculate verse he does not write, hence his title. He is not in sync, ahead of his time, collapsing all about, “Each day we open / a door whose keyhole / shrinks around us.” Yet he knows better, how it’s been done, how it’s done now. “Snows and Snatches” where the poem comes down into the book as witness, as contrast with the shaver of cacti. Such a praxis is anathema (“What”), eggshell skullwork, even “postnuke postplague / (I’ll crack it like an egg)”, but for this you must shatter the gold of the “Wishingwell” with your silver, “with my claim / on the future, my need to be / rewarded with all I owe.”

A memory of the past won’t serve, “Sight cannot / even in summer when it is hot / share the air enjoyed by the eyed,” a Mirage of non-writing is provided by Black here, facing the poem, “The I Did”. You’re in it now (“Reconciliations”), the poem is recorded with images of “the happy couple”.

And again the Schoolmaster with evasive pupils, miles of them, boys and girls. He dreams four words, “the arms of care”, to comfort them. The question remains, “The shallows / is where I sight myself; / the abyss / shows all you others. // Which is worse?” The bonnet and the tea-kettle head (“Quickly I place a teakettle / atop a dead volcano / and learn to wait for its whistle.”) from Black. It isn’t just the critics’ hate, it’s what they love instead (“Discrimination”). Things are lost that way (Black’s beautiful Writer Frog and Safe Money).

Cornerstones “make home my dream / my ideal occupancy”, remains of buildings consecrated and blasted, “ampukisses on limp horizons. These / tendernesses dispensed in my wake / constantly plant tendrils around my intent.”

The voice of complaint, it comes from acres of possibility and wishful thinking. Spring has its rites, here he is, classic, clamoring, a connoisseur of art—the poet, the opposable thumb.

The forgeries of the hand depart, he inclines (like Char, like Lorca) to the fact of existence.