Though I’ve always been charmed by quick turns of phrase and short but powerful poems, there are few poets I know who can rip my heart out in a matter of a few lines. The poem, “INTERRUPTUS,” which I came across a little more than a year ago while plowing through Bill Knott’s COLLECTED POETRY, only needs four lines to shake my whole perspective on poetry and suicide in an imaginary conversation between two voices :
The opening lines speak back to the title. The first voice the reader encounters is an interruption, but we’re at the beginning of the poem. We’re commanded to wait, and then asked a question that seems more a statement because of the lack of a question mark. The tone of the opening voice seems very domineering and controlling and contrasts sharply with the almost playful (yet, deadly serious) tone of the voice in the middle two lines.
I like to read this poem as an enactment of the internal argument the poet’s having, the struggle to justify their own existence. The second voice seems eager after declaring status as a poet to follow that up, as if to explain why they’re necessary–because they write filler for suicide-notes. Just the idea of a suicide note with “filler material” jolts me from my automatic assumption that suicide notes must be void of fluff or filler. The sentiment only deepens as we follow across the break and find out that the poet considers the phrase, “I love you,” to be filler. At this point, I’m upended. The top of my head’s taken off by the flippancy of the voice butted up against the severity of the subject matter. I’m so caught off guard that I forget the voice from the opening line until it returns with an affirmation that the poet’s answer is acceptable and that they should continue.
The poem is funny and serious at the same time, and manages, through the framing of one voice inside another, the subject material, and the very difficult nature of questions like: what are you? what is a poet? what is love to someone who commits suicide?, to shake my perspective on the world in an unexpected yet satisfying way and make it just a little bit larger. So. Alright. Continue.
P.S. If you like this poem, you might like some of Knott’s other short poems in his collection 333 SHORT POEMS.