Saturday, May 31, 2008


Just as the Nazis never proscribed Rilke
(he was no Expressionist, no Degenerate,
no Art-Bolshevik), so most of us poets
are thought no threat by those in authority—

Halfhass, for instance, his books won't get banned:
his Rilkemanqué wins awards, his "spiritual
progress" and "earned words" (—to paraphrase Wilde,
his genius gives good guru Po-Biz style while

his talent brooks those so serious ergo poems)—
what might please our fuehrers even more is
his patriot's part in The American Poetry Series.

Better silence than that? Better to hide, to write
for one's cabinet? (To paraphrase Benn,
the aristocratic form of publication.)


[Poet's] Note: This poem was deleted from my collected comic poems by the publisher, BOA, whose chief fund-raiser at the time was Robert Hass. . . .

I've often wondered if the BOA editors censored this poem on their own
initiative, or whether they were ordered to do so by Hass.


Admin note: I have "propagated" this poem as per Bill Knott's statement to readers:


Poem copyright Bill Knott, August 2007


  1. Robert Hass is "Halfhass?"


  2. Banning is the best publicity for a poet...

    Joyce, Ginsberg...

    No one would read them if they hadn't been banned...

    Banned is the Best!

    The greatest literary lion is a caged one. The lions who run free are forgotten...

    Put a poet in a cage and poke him with a stick. His fame is assured...

  3. Christopher says, "Ouch."

    Then he says, "Ouch!"

    Does he, Christopher?

  4. umm,

    thanks for reprinting me and all that,

    but i don't understand why you're sticking an extraneous graphic

    into the middle of my poem—

    what's the point? can you please take that picture away

    from my poem?

    thanks from bill knott

  5. Bill,

    You're right. It's your poem, so I have removed the graphic.

    I recognize that you're the poem's creator and in this post I'M the guest.

    And thanks for granting your generous permission to readers. I hope this incident doesn't change your mind.



  6. Jennifer,

    Right on this site, Dana Gioia is quoted saying the following:

    "Why, for example, does poetry mix so seldom with music, dance, or theater? At most readings the program consists of verse only—and usually only verse by that night's author. Forty years ago, when Dylan Thomas read, he spent half the program reciting other poets' work. Hardly a self-effacing man, he was nevertheless humble before his art. Today most readings are celebrations less of poetry than of the author's ego. No wonder the audience for such events usually consists entirely of poets, would-be poets, and friends of the author."

    Gioia asks that poets lose their ego and mingle their art with other kinds of art.

    If poetry is to be saved, I say we obey Gioia.

    Put that picture back up (that wonderful iconic image of Rilke) and to hell with Bill Knott's objection.

    "Pull down, thy vanity! I say, pull it down!"

  7. Let's have a poll.

    What picture should accompany Knott's poem?

  8. With all due respect to my gifted friend with the very special eye, Jennifer Semple Siegel, I think Bill Knott was right. In fact, the illustration detracted from the poem because it was so one-dimensional--as if you were to illustrate "So Much Depends Upon" with a wheelbarrow glazed with rainwater, or Prufrock with an operating table! Poems are very delicate and ephemeral, even hard hitting ones like this "porcupine" poem of Bill Knott, (good image--porcupine's are such delicate creatures, that's why they're so prickly!) and to encourage reading any poem in terms of one image is to limit it--what is more to give that one image a specific shape and a name.

    And the poem isn't about Rilke at all, any more than it's about Robert Hass--to post a photo of Robert Hass would be even more distracting than the one of Rilke, wouldn't it?

    It's also a comic poem, don't forget--it's funny like a stand-up routine. The illustration makes it look respectful and solid, and it's not. It's irreverent and it's a shocker and a rocker--and the language of it can do a far better job than any visual equivalent.

    That's Bill Knott's main point, I think. How dare you assume my poem needs help!

    But you know what's best of all? The dialogue with Bill Knott about it--the fact that the poet can come on this site and get the illustration removed just like that, and with a gracious apology from the owner too, a real person and my friend. And then we can start talking about a poll, great, and then I can come in and say I think Bill Knott was right--and I won't get banned, locked or deleted for having a contrary opinion on the matter!

    Hurray for us!


  9. Anonymous:
    "Pull down" as a reaction in any situation is vanity too, isn't it? "Pull down" and "put down" are often identical reactions, it seems to me--and the poem is a direct attack upon the mentality that operates in both!

    "Put back" can also be a kind of censorship, like putting back prayer in public schools, for example-- which is mainly about controlling the expression of free thought.

  10. Thanks for that, Anonymous--that's what I meant too.

    Also back to the Anonymous that just quoted the words of Dana Gioia, which are still thrilling even after you've read them hundreds of time--a true touchstone.

    But qualifications are important--not all multi-media shows are more effective than mono-media ones. I loved hearing Allen Ginsburg sing the Blues, for example, but it wasn't because his poetry was more powerful that way, or because his music needed words. It was just a good show--fun, in other words. But it didn't have anything to do with poetry or with music!

    And what's wrong with ego like that? Or that whole drunken blob of it, Dylan Thomas? Because when Dylan Thomas read other people's poetry he was still just reciting himself, and that was thrilling beyond belief!

    Most of all I loved hearing Yehudi Menuhin play all six solo Sonatas and Partitas of J.S.Bach in the King's College Chapel, but that was because the chapel knew how to shut up and keep out of it. Thank goodness nobody had the idea to put up a slide show on the ceiling, or play lights on the windows, or even project some delicate shadow puppets on the Rood Screen. Many of us commented afterwards how extraordinary it was that Yehudi Menuhin didn't even have the music on a stand before him to distract us--that he played all that for hours and hours from memory just standing there in the middle of us all alone.

    What multi-media event could ever compete with that?

    Or hearing Louise Glück read "The Wild Iris" in a reading just standing there somewhere in Manhattan, I don't remember where, but for sure all alone?

    But how many poets write words that are worth listening to with that sort of concentration in that sort of silence?

    So my question is still, why isn't Bill Knott's poem enough? Read it again and tell me, is it still yielding more like that by itself? Does it need any more help?


  11. Christopher,

    I don't think Bill Knott's poem is enough to warrant alone-ness.

    Bach is one thing, but a poem with all sorts of political references is another...

    Illustration can only help a poem like this one by Knott.


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