The course where it unbegan

This fall I’m teaching The Art of Compost, the course that hatched this blog, for the first time in three years. Thought I’d share with you the page that greets students when they go to the course’s online platform. Meant to open them to a composty way of thinking about word objects.

Welcome to 

ENG 460: The Art of Compost

“Look at my butterflies, my stamps, my old shoes!”
What does one do with all this crap?
–Jack Spicer

In the beginning, there was compost.

Crumb – Genesis 1 – sized
R. Crumb, The Illustrated Genesis

The Bible is a compost pile.

The story of the Flood is floodwrack of a Sumerian epic, Gilgamesh.

The Song of Solomon, proclaiming the devotion of the Hebrews to their God in really quite erotic terms, is a compost of Canaanite love poetry.

The New Testament cannibalizes the Old to make Jesus make more sense.


Sappho - Papyrus
Sappho, a fragment

A bit of poem by Sappho.

The fragment only survives
because the poem was torn to strips,

and the strips (papyrus)
used to wrap a mummy.


A novel digested yields
precious rare verse nutrients.

Phillips – Humument – sized
Tom Phillips, A Humument (fifth edition)

Tom Phillips found a bad Victorian novel in a London bookstore in 1966 and bought it on a dare.

He’s spent the last 48 years releasing the eye poems he finds in it.

Its protagonist, Toge, carved out of the words together, altogether.

Its human meaning, here and there uttered and everywhere embodied: “only connect.”


A composted mass of poems
becomes a lettery soil.

Screenshot - Spicer.png
Jack Spicer, After Lorca

Jack Spicer didn’t write his poems.

Some were dictated to him by Martians.

Others came to him over the radio. The poet is a radio, he said, a counter-punching radio.


You can compost something as impromptu
as an envelope jotting . . .

Bervin – Gorgeous – sized
Emily Dickinson, Jen Bervin, & Marta Werner, The Gorgeous Nothings

Jen Bervin and Marta Werner have found, in diplomatic transcriptions of the envelope jottings of Emily Dickinson, a curious new sort of visual poem.

. . . or grandiose as an extinct civilization
extant only in mind

Schwerner – Tablet X – sized 2Armand Schwerner imagines the discovery of tablets left behind by a hitherto unknown ancient culture.

The brackets and ellipses scholars use to transcribe broken ancient texts become the building blocks for visual poems elucidating

perception illumination annihilation enlightenment dissolution regeneration
sex birth death irrigation animal husbandry


Compost will be our trope
for how writers take extant works
and break them down to pieces they can
use to make new works that will be
broken down in turn to
make new works

Whew. That took longer than you’d think to format. As you can see, it raises more questions than it answers. Our primary texts, w/ links:

Compost as trope, as topos, as practice. It’s a way of digging intertextuality and materiality without going all theory. It’s also ecopoetics as I myself feel it, not nature-as-leafy-green-stuff one swoons to in words, though that’s well and good, but interbeing discovered as your textual ground. Indra’s Net, felt on the breath, that it becomes the texture of our works, our days.

Our reading practice is fluid, but some of these may swim into our ken:

Works co-authored by time

The same except make-believe

20th C. ur-texts composed by bricolage

Objectivist &c. poems &c. at play in their wake

Translations that foreground their compost nature . . .

. . . and translations into a language of pure form

Other conceptual undertakings

Prose compendia and extravaganza with a compost face

Works that suggest to compose just is to compost

Instructions and conceptions

Images and sounds

The bin of the thing

It’s the bare thin start of a compost rolodex.

Later will try to get some more recent workings in.

Here, for now, the wormipede I just found on my kitchen floor, WTF.


Lastly, why so Euro? I need to dwell more on that, but it’s got to do with a hankering for diagnosis. Our thought, I mean the West’s, has been sick a good long time. One way to get a bead on what ails us might be to trace the shadows that remain of cultures who before their ruinous contact with us lacked our afflictions. “Ethnopoetics.” If we’re amiss, our others may offer a glance of salutary haleness. While I admire elders like Robert Bringhurst and Jerome Rothenberg, deep and sincere in an exogenous practice, it may have felt to some of its objects – it surely would to me were I to try on any such regard – like more of the same damn thievery.

Another way is endogenous – sift the debris all round us of our own works and ages.

Poetics of the Rhizome

Been a while. Here, a post that takes composting (repurposing) (ok cutting and pasting) to heart – coarse description for my winter poetry workshop. And, cuz the Puritan in me says LAZY BOY for plopping this down, I’ll put in some links, rhizome-style, to what I hope’ll be pleasing surprising ties.

By the way? Rhizome, from Deleuze and Guattari’s “Introduction: Rhizome” from A Thousand Plateaus, which, as I said today to my colleague Oliver, I’d never make an undergrad actually read, though in fact it’s durn pretty cool.

By the way also? Rhizome’s a complicated way of saying Indra’s Net.

English 453: Creative Writing Seminar: Poetry: “Poetics of the Rhizome”

A plant that grows by rhizomes spreads laterally underground, sprouting new plants where chance prompts it or opportunity allows. A rhizomatic plant lets go of where it came from. It extends indefinitely. Sprawls and breaks the rules. Makes its own rules and it don’t look back. Diverse and plural, not a voice but voices, it connects and connects some more. Think aspen, orchid, ginger, bamboo. Think poison oak, horsetails, bunch grass. We’re past good and evil here, beautiful and ugly, the rhizome’s where shit gets real.

In this class, we’ll meet the poem, poetry, as rhizome – a conversation without edges – messy sprawling webs of language that circle the globe, link human prehistory to the present moment, and embed human speech and action in a more-than-human world. Our focus will be student work, but we’ll touch in with ways of thinking-about-poetry, feeling-through-poetry, sympathetic with rhizomatic mind. The post-colonial turn from Anglophone canons to literatures of cultures at the muzzle end of empire. The work of ethnopoetics, fruitful but troubling, to recover pre-techno­logical ways of being and seeing. And the work of ecopoetics to divine, through the dowsing wand of poetry, a human place in the green and toothy world.

Full disclosure, with whine. Do I have time to check out all the links mischief has me propose? Are you kidding? With my working life? You know I make about minimum wage, right, when minimum wage is actually a living wage, as it is in, say, SeaTac? And here I am at 9:50pm eating Coop lasagna from the microwave and drinking a cheap but really not bad Grenache and spending entirely too long on a blog post … well, point is, I’ve given the links a quick scan, they seem fun, but be your own judges. Century of Scatter.

The intent here’s intimately practical. How to widen our notion of the possible in poetry? So count on lots of provocative reading, frequent writing exercises, and thoughtful responses to your work and that of your peers. Too, be ready for conceptions of the poem you hadn’t thought before: poem as prayer, incantation, manifesto, compost pile, neural net. Grades will be based on assigned exercises, writing journal, final portfolio, active and generous participation. Poetry by W.C. Williams, Robert Creeley, John Taggart, Ghandl of the Qayahl Llaanas, Will Alexander, Adonis, Jean Valentine, Coral Bracho. Poetics essays by Williams, Charles Olson, Denise Levertov, John Cage, Charles Bernstein, Lyn Hejinian, Adonis, Adrienne Rich.

More of the promised links to come, friends, but I gotta call it a night. Rhizome mind is hard work. As all ferns and their fronds know.