Bill Knott, Stigmata Errata Etcetera
Publisher: Saturnalia Books
2007, 65 pages, paperback, $16
bill knott’s most recent collection fuses two worlds of creativity: poetry and visual art. The poems represent forty-nine of the book’s sixty-five pages; the remaining pages, along with the book’s cover, are composed of artist Star Black’s dissonant and dreamlike collages.
Since his first book published in 1968, Knott has been associated with a contemporary, quasi-surrealist mode in American poetry, and Stigmata Errata Etcetera, with Black’s collages and Knott’s poems, exists near this type of dissociation. “The Mourner,” for example, closes with “And often he lets his face rain / above his mouth, above his eyes, / his nose: lets it hover in the mist / of its ignorant verities.” However, where other poets of this fashion have been criticized for a lack of formal gusto, Knott has often framed his work with dire attention paid to meter, stanza structure, and (gasp!) even rhyme. His efforts are no less evident in this book.
Stigmata Errata Etcetera exhibits the Knott we’ve come to expect: sharp-witted and bitter. Such is the case in “Novembernew,” when Knott writes, “Scoldingly, the way a nurse / waves a thermometer at a corpse, / branches thrash above us.” Throughout the book, a consistently caustic voice delivers each line.
Aside from Knott’s abrasive tone, another Knott-ism is present: disdain and dismay regarding the poetic community. In “Commuter Skills Needed,” Knott remarks, “I’m like a spaceship flooded with roadmaps: / The guidebooks that marked and led me here are / Archaic. All the ways they praise have lapsed.” Here, Knott has again found himself apart from the same poetic body that helped shape him, and he’s not afraid to voice his predicament.
In Stigmata Errata Etcetera, Knott is as incisive and trenchant as ever. Take the closing quatrain from “Snuffed” as an illustration: “Time, our sentence, is specific. / Memory, its syntax, vague. / The melt is where they meet- / inksoil syllables dribbling down a page.” As long as Knott’s words are in print, his readers will surely know where he stands both on and off the page.