Been playing around awhile

with a composting practice. Take a transcript of a dream, embarrassingly open maybe, and type it up as a paragraph, stripping out punctuation and caps, a first stage of digestion. Then, burrow through it, wormwise, a la Tom Phillips, making phrases you’d never a thunk of, on yer own. Compose those phrases as a poem.

I’ll post one of those sometime soon probably. But here now’s to tell, I’m playing with a modified practice of that, two stages. One, worm through a dream transcript to make a prose poem, such as

The roads in are look thrown down over a side
of them a bit further ∙ so fine I have to map that
too ∙ each step I want more a mountain road to
where the valley of what else I am even in win-
ter sunlight on it and me bleached wood in the
water in a crouch ∙ a lake fallen through firs in
the foreground ∙ brilliant bare red bush ∙ then in
a car with the mountains hiking us ∙ art a moth
taught us ∙ Just be at rest as you hack through a
rent sort of small dead ∙ the trees here really do
wake an interwoven densely spacious impasse

And then, pass through again, wormwise as before, to make verse poems as castings, as here


Look fine.
I want what else I am brilliant at.

king, hack us through these
here red trees.

Each step bit them.
Am really in a rough pass
Winter oven.

Feels to me, it has more of me in it, the me most meaningful to me, for having about zero autobiographical to offer.

Exercise: Torn page (2)

This time you have a little more say. (One point of attention here is the play of decision and accident in the composition.) Take a page and tear it in half vertically. Find a language area you like. Begin reading from the (left or right) gutter and go as far as you like along the line (moving right or left). When you’ve had enough of that, jump to the next line, and repeat.

When you’ve made your selection, you can also make some small number of amendments, let’s say three. This came from William Carlos Williams’s Imaginations, looks like Descent of Winter, though I’m too lame to go check.

Again, transcribe the poem, as the act of making it your own.

And Coolidge said, let fenders
behind pine booths stead of the
old-time cake-thick faces! made
of some certain, how they shape for
the oven, the woven grey strips
wound pneumothorax pavement
office upon lights.

This one has at first the feel of being a sentence, but around “pneumothorax” it abandons the pretence of sentenceness and gives itself to its wordliness.

Exercise: Torn page (1)

Cooked this one up an hour before class yesterday. Pull a page out of a book. Crease it well down the centre (from top to bottom) and tear it in half. Do the same with each half. You’ll have four strips of page, and eight stripes of language, if the page was printed on both sides.

Browse through them for a language column that pleases you. No changing anything — part words are left as part words, syntax is let be scrambled.


But do transcribe the language column you’ve chosen. That’s how it becomes your poem — by travelling from eye to brain to hand. Mine is called “else *”. As you can see it’s an ode.

else.* Although he o
did not believe that
ity would come as a
was the powerful who
nment that wished to
actical precaution o
th care. If men with
they would certain
staging a “whisky
fore, was to protect
n did not actually ca
said, he did consid

See also Tristan Tzara’s directions on making a Dada poem.

Exercise: Homophonic translation

(Another of the exercises I’m giving my Art of Compost class.)

In a homophonic translation, you translate for sound, rather than for sense. For instance, this sentence in French

Je vais aujourd’hui à la maison de mon ami.

sounds roughly like

 Juh vase oh zhour dwee a la may zon de moan am ee.

And so its homophonic translation might go

Juvie, so, sure, twee. Ah, lamb, he’s on demon, am ye?

Notice how a word in the French can become two in English, or the end of one word and the start of another, in the French, can fuse to form a single English word. In other words, don’t worry about preserving the boundaries between words.

Notice, too, that the translation isn’t exact—vowel sounds shift a little, and sometimes a voiced consonant (e.g., “d”) becomes unvoiced (“t”).

The exercise. Take a passage of 50-75 words, verse or prose, in a language other than English, and do a homophonic translation into English. It’s better to choose a language that you know how to pronounce, but if there aren’t any of those, just make your best guesses.

Examples follow. You might also check out David Melnick’s Men in Aida.

Louis and Celia Zukofsky, Catullus

Source Text (Latin)

Multus home es, Naso, neque tecum multus homost qui
descendit: Naso, multus es et pathicus.

Homophonic Translation

Mool ’tis homos,’ Naso, ’n’ queer take ’im mool ’tis ho most he
descended: Naso, mool ’tis – is it pathic, cuss.

Christopher Patton, Overject

Source Text (Old English)

Frige mec frodum  wordum   nelæt þinne  ferð on
hælne degol þæt þu deopost cunne  nelle icþe min
dyrne gesecgan  gifþume  þinne hyge cræft hy
lest  ⁊þine heortan  geþohtas ∙ gleawe men sceolon gieddū
wrixlan god sceal mon ærest hergan fægre fæder user
ne forþon þehe us ætfymþe  geteode lif  ⁊lænne
willan  heusic wile þara  leana gemonian ∙ meotud sceal
inwuldre  mon sceal  oneorþan  geong ealdian god us ece
biþ ne wendað hine wyrda  nehine  wiht dreceþ adl

Homophonic Translation

Fridge me, Frodo. Um, word. Um, nail a thin firth on
hell. Ned—eagle that thou deepest can. Uh, Nellie—itch the mine,
dear. Now you sedge, an’ if thou math in how ye craft, how
lost and thin a heart an you thought as. Glue we men shall on yet. Um,
were Ixlan god, shall man arrest her gain? Fare a fader user.
Knife or than the hay us at fume. The yet ode, life and lane, uh,
will an hay us itch, while, o’there, Alan a’ye money on. Meow. Dude shall
in weld, remand shall on earth, an’ yon gulled Ian, god us each, uh,
both new. Endeth he new word. An’ a he new wicked dreck i’th’addle.

Exercise: Fragment work (2)

Pick a fragment where most has gone missing and fill in the gaps. You don’t need to sound like Sappho here. Instead, sound how the few remaining words feel to you. For example, given


one might get to

And anxiety.
How the ground.
Rises to meet.
A body.

Drawing a blank I stole another move from Carson. Her “Life of Towns.”

Exercise: Fragment work (1)

Imagine you are time. Pick a fragment from Carson’s Sappho that looks whole and erase most of it. Use brackets and the space of the page, à la Carson, to indicate where things have gone missing. Aim for a fragment just as resonant after your treatment as it was before. For example

and gold chickpeas were growing on the banks

might become

gold [                                      ] wing