Hot off the compost presses

Apologies, been away a bit, teaching, making poems. Thought I’d post a most recent one. The process I’ve been working out, I take a transcript of a dream from my journal, streamline it a bit, and type it up as a column of text about three inches wide. Looks something like this:

Across the water to an island ∙ I’ve left my
clothes in a woods a road runs through and
forget where ∙ a woods full of the light of an
inmost summer ∙ feeling naked on my way to
town I backtrack and find myself in a tent of
translucent fabric full of that same light ∙ a
young woman comes in ∙ we’ve not ever seen
each other ∙ Hello she says and lies down beside
me ∙ I put my arm around her and my hand
comes to rest on her breast ∙ she moves it off
with a kindness that seems to mean our love for
each other is ∙ but is not that it was recalling on
waking her kindness that made me so awfully
sad ∙ now I have clothes on and have hitched a
lift toward town with a trucker ∙ we go up and
down hills ∙ through mountainous sunsoaked
landscapes ∙ we come to a stop ∙ the road is an
upward rocky path with breaks and ledges at
skewed angles ∙ I’d like to get out of the truck
but stay seated ∙ The better way ∙ I say to me ∙ is
to be right there for what’s given ∙ what’s really
up though is I don’t want to look a coward ∙ the
driver takes a deep breath ∙ starts the engine ∙
we crash forward to the other side ∙ at another
spot the path is a notch between a boulder and
a rockface ∙ I or my mind am or is outside the
cab ∙ a post with a box on top blocks the path ∙
and now I’m at the ferry terminal where my
friends have made it over in their large toy cars
∙ mad how long it took to get here ∙ they mean
to turn round and get the next boat home ∙ Wait
I say we can all go to my place now ∙ that cheers
us up ∙ though evening the light persists in me

It’s far from being a poem. In fact, speaking of feeling naked, I feel quite exposed posting it! But I know we’re all friends here.

Given a source text, I burrow through, finding phrases that please or scare me. It’s pretty quick and quite intuitive … things go wrong when I become deliberate or try to make “strategic” choices. Starting at the bottom of the column, and hewing mostly to the left side, I get to this paragraph:

Up I say to mad friends and now stop ∙ stay
seated ∙ turn round ∙ spot the ash river a sad
king thought to face at a right angle and be wed
to war in these rockscape hills ∙ to each angel
comes a kind of rest ∙ a Hell no lucent woman
or man may be other to ∙ so I own that inmost
forge where in woods a road runs to an island

Not awful. Could stand on its own as a prose poem maybe. But I feel undone with it so I burrow through again. Here’s, this evening, the poem I got to:


Comes war to forge a man.
Eats up to king.

Hell, so a road.

Hills, right at the stop end.

stay sad,
a woe angle.

I know it’s a downward poem and that’s about it. There’s an upward poem in there too, its complement, next to be writ.

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: 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

On metaphor

Metaphor has fallen out of my work almost completely. I think there’s one in the whole of Dumuzi. Why is that? (Not a rhetorical question.) Something in metaphor feels violent to me — wrenching a thing out of being-as-it-is so it can be yoked to some other thing and lend to its glory.

A metaphor is, at the least, a lie, and to go along with it, we need to split our consciousness in two — the one who accepts the lie, and the one who knows it for a lie. (Compare to the split induced by accentual-syllabic meters — one ear attentive to concrete particular speech rhythms, one to an abstract metrical pattern.)

Donald Revell on mixing metaphors: “A good way to kill the damn things off.”

Metonymy seems gentler, letting its two terms hang out together equably.

Both enlarge consciousness — one by an abrupt rending, the other by a steady gentle pressure outward.

I wonder, is compost, what actually happens in the compost bin, the vegetal smushing, closer to metaphor or metonymy?