Bill Knott poses a thorny question here: Having seized control of his work, and in the process pissed off Farrar, Straus and Giroux‘s Jonathan Galassi, who balked at letting Knott’s last FSG volume The Unsubscriber go out of print, so that Knott could begin publishing poems from it via Lulu; having run into the perplexing situation that critics won’t review his self-published volumes, and bookstores won’t stock them, nor libraries swell their shelves with them; having, that is, had a poetic reality check, Knott is now wondering whether he should not, in fact, offer his almost finished Selected Poems (selected, it’s important to note, not by Knott but by a hired editor, a pro evidently, someone whose taste he felt he could trust) to a “real” publisher, an FSG, for example, though doing so would open him to rejection, which wounds him, as it wounds us all, but Knott more than me, for example, because I know (as he knows) that his work is distinctive, significant, nonpareil in American letters, whereas mine is not—it is simply not Knott!—and would he survive, he wonders, the slings and arrows, etc., and the self-doubt, the anger, the giddy despair, the attendant night sweats, etc. Well, I have to say that if it were me, and I had a Selected Poems (I started one, once—but that’s another story), and knowing what I know about my relative inconsequence as a poet, nevertheless I would risk the attempt to find a “real” publisher, because, as Knott has discovered, there is a lot more to publishing than printing the writing; there is a whole realm of blurberation and promotion, the generation of critical excitement, which the right book from the right publisher at the right time can produce, and of maintaining relationships with libraries that yield standing orders, and with bookstores the same, so that the book will have a fighting chance of reaching whatever audience may be out there; and because these considerations would make me risk it, I think Knott should risk it, because I can’t help but believe that there are publishers out there who know damn well who and what he is—that is, a poet, the real McCoy—and who will want to trade a little of their luster for a lot of his. It’s a fair trade, is what I would tell him—what I am telling him, or suggesting at least—and there’s nothing degrading about it, and if there is he can rail about it later, after the book is published, which might be a good thing anyway because all publicity is good publicity, as they say, while all poetry is not good poetry, and if you’re writing good poetry, as Knott is doing and has been doing for what? forty years?, then you owe your poetry the risk involved with finding a “real” publisher. Besides, I have wondered what will happen to Lulu authors upon their demise, that is, presumably their accounts will expire and the books become unavailable; and I hate thinking of Knott’s poems someday being as unavailable as Knott himself must, being mortal, eventually be; but a publisher with luster will keep a poet with luster in print, by hook or by crook. So again, I say go for it, risk it, find that publisher with real luster, Mister Knott.
[With stylistic apologies to Juan José Saer]