Student work: Compost mural

A mural my students made last week in class. The prompt: using only the materials you have on hand, or can forage from the surrounding environment without breaking the law or hurting anyone’s feelings, express your understanding of “the art of compost.” Oh, and no legible text, other than found text.

Here it’s, as composted through my iPhone:

Interesting to watch them work. Each one herself, himself, just about perfectly. Last year I gave this, every one worked pretty much on their lonesome, class dynamics, long story, and it did come out okay. This time, some leaned toward solo, some into duo, some asked as to overview, but as they felt their way into the actual question at hand – are we one or are we many – those arrangements softened and shifted.

That is, as they composted their thinking, they found a rhythm where each had room to breathe, or so it seemed to me, and nice to see. Nice to be part of just in watching. Here ’tis, as panorama,

Compost mural 2015
Click on me to see (and again) compost understood

Sometime soon, a post on breath, breathing, the breath, which I’ve been thinking and not-thinking about, these days of hot high still air all round. How’s it I ever thought my breath was anyone else’s to order around? That’s my little bit cryptic thought of an evening, after a day hiking up at Baker, forest fire haze out of BC hanging on air, dulling Baker and Shuksan to the eye, but someone or something was watching lupines and mimulus shivering in wind bits, and what’s wind but earth’s breath, what we’re in.

Student work – Scrap elegy

The exercise, upon reading Anne Carson’s Nox:

Build an elegy out of scraps, fragments, parts. At least some of its text should be found text.

Nox a text I admit to some mixed feelings re. Gorgeous seductive reproductions of crinkled scraps. You can see the shadow where the slip lifts off the ground it rests on. The tears and stains are palpable. The thing ages afore your eyes. A sepia principle squared and resquared perhaps. Apotheosis of mimesis.

Nox - CI

First day discussing it, a tenth or thirteenth point threeth muse came down upon me, and I held the faltering accordion o’er my head, and cried out, “is document porn, people, document porn.”

I meant, it promises all the satisfactions of actual cotton fibre, passionate tears, coffee stains or such under your fingertips, but it’s mere dissembly. A 2D picture plane w/ a pretence to texture.

Yeah, I know, book’s an elegy, and first and last elegy for itself, and eros is longing for what’s gone missing, yadda. Porn knows it’s porn’s still porn.

Not, in the words of a comedian or three, that there’s anything wrong with that. But there are other options.

My students, bless’em, haven’t the production budget of a New Direction behind them, but their work on this exercise’s been wonderful. All sorts of elegy, acknowledgement of lack and loss and longing, and done without making their scraps into fetishes. (Admire Carson lots. Lots structural in Nox I love. But not its slick mimesis which makes me sort of sick.)

Herewith a gallery of their deft encounters.

One interrogates the torn edge without making a fetish of the tear.

Ex 6 no 1

One abrades the boundary between beauty and ugly in a way only plastics and the postmodern can.

Ex 6 no 2

One applies a mathematic of the shell to arrange swatches cut it might be from a Louis Quatorze drawing room.

Ex 6 no 3

Click on this one to get some sense how it shone. Also it had a warm shaggy waft of tobacco which made me want to smoke which I’ve never (almost). It was, that is to say, multi-modal. Okay now I’m doing the nostalgia I got on Carson’s case for. O mimesis. O Plato.

Ex 6 no 4

Been on this student’s case to get his thinking into his fingertips. He broke through and big.

Ex 6 no 5

And this one, my goodness, click on it too, the layers! the textures! the heart! (all of them, the heart)

Ex 6 no 6

Student work: Found poems

From my students’ found poems (posted with permission). I’m stunned by how good these are. I sense in some a little imitation of the Ashbery I gave as example—but a little imitation’s no sin.


Every little bone
Lost and found

Some sickness
Coming home
Stretching you

Still I have to wait
Giving you a chance to go on

Source: bits of overheard conversation on local buses.


Bring it to the boid. Where people do.
Moment of your. Ladies . . . ? Put antlers on my.
Can’t do it without. Don’t want kids.
Girls had to be escorted through the. Tilting it in besides using.
Fairly difficult to. Friends who couldn’t boil.
I can just carry. I lied I said I was.

Sources: the bus, roommates making dinner, the grocery store, a girl talking on the phone in the library, some girls in a parking lot.


My life in the garden. A professional creep.
Measuring mortality. Underestimated desperation.
The God of eggs. Drops hundreds on stupidity.
Leeching souls. Rotting citrus. Raining hedgehogs.
A glottal stop. The crazy’s back.
Can’t trust delusion. In a house of stray cats.

Sources [this list makes a companion poem to the first] [some names changed to preserve anonymity]:

1. Meghan working in our yard
2. Kayla liking to explore attics
3. Liz, population issues
4. Dr. C., on human tendencies
5. Evelyn making snack
6. Me, on calling a lock smith
7. Sam’s dramatic description of a professor
8. Brandin, on the rotting fruit in our fridge
9. Kayla’s friend got a hedgehog, misheard “training hedgehogs”
10. Kayla, it’s a sound in Arabic
11. Meghan, on Arianna’s return to our house
12. Marylin, warning us about Arianna
13. Boston, describing our housemates as kitties.


For New Zealand and
in Iceland over yonder
a bottle of wine . . . or two
so superficial
off the light like you.

Freaking cute!
My Hawks and future cowboy
perfect comment
so much ass
three times the national rate.

In your prayers, but
years from now
in the dark
a moment at the Texaco
tis the season to fawcking love this.

An Autumnal mood
Monday, like crazy
and outnumbered benefits
yummy Mexican, oh so texty
but fly as shit.

Source: Facebook statuses of friends.


All of us on the road from Scotland to Silverado.
The sound and the fury as I lay dying.
Sex lives of cannibals, basic logic.
Kama Sutra, great expectations.
Two years before the mast. The poisoners. The Italians. The great pyramids.
A tale of two cities. Mumbo jumbo.
To a god unknown. Welcome to the monkey house, beat reader.

Source: a bookshelf.


A dusty room. Deprived of sun.
Melancholy soul. Little sinks.

Against a rule. Being ignored.
The sun to night. To worlds of dark.
Of memories. With setting skies.

The patter of rain. A wound unmended.
Slept through. A candle blown.

Our sorrows in shades. Once a vessel.
And every song. A complicated knot.
About my regret. My every thought.

To never be found.

Source: Love and Misadventure by Lang Leav.


Letter openers. Cardboard cutouts. Ibuprofen.
Kites everywhere. A nap midday. Chocolate chip oatmeal cookies.
His Hungarian going? Dry erase. Pink computer.

Things that actually kill us. Educated math students.
Happiness shaved off the Neverending Story.
The Hello Kitty blanket tastes like burnt meat.

Sources: The West Wing, overheard conversations at a friend’s house, class lecture.


Sweet Everlasting Voices. may have Blamed. Word for Word.
left on. Loose Paper. an Aged Man. the Sea swept.
He drew. says the Ghost. live in the Peeling Mansion.
with feeling older. let the Tongue slip. swap our Lies.
They made You. to fear Them. praise this Mess. the Slow Rain.

Source: poems on the Poetry Foundation website.


Well the situation is
What’s wrong with the kids these
Staying high all the
Let’s forget these tragic
Days long ago

Hello folks
Drugs aren’t the
Let’s continue on
With the sex drives of teens

Monsters aren’t
The only thing
Giving these all
Away to fairyland
Drug dealers are too

So in the end
Nothing makes me
After this tragic
Floods in Florida

Sources: Listening to two or three media devices at once, tablet, desktop computer, phone, each on a different kind of media. E.g., one playing YouTube videos, one with live and old news, one streaming music.

Exercise: Found poem

A writing exercise from our unit on the phrase.

Write a poem made of found phrases. “Found” means you don’t make them up yourself—you see or hear them around you. “Phrase” means more than a single word, less than a full sentence. Choose one kind of source to take your materials from. A few possibilities:

  • bits of overheard (or misheard) conversation
  • first phrases of poems in an anthology
  • phrases seen in print ads (magazines, posters, billboards)

Avoid song titles and song lyrics—they tend to be clichéd and to make clichéd poems. Find a source that offers bits of language you feel eager to mess around with.

It’s okay to make small changes (e.g., removing a verb to turn a sentence into a phrase, or changing verb tense to make two phrases line up) but avoid introducing any words of your own.

You may not be able to make the sort of sense you wish to. Let the material lead and you follow. Instead of worrying about making sense—focus on setting up resonances.

An example, from John Ashbery’s “Title Search” (though not in fact a found poem it reads like one):

The Little Red Church. The Hotel District.
I’ll Eat a Mexican. The Heritage of Froth.
The Trojan Comedy. Water to the Fountain. Memoirs of a Hermit Crab.
The Ostrich Succession. Exit Pursued by a Turkey.
In the Pound. The Artist’s Life. On the Beautiful Blue Danube.
Less Is Roar. The Bicyclist. The Father.

(Most of these are phrases. Which ones aren’t?)

One more torn page

One more from Barb (she’s on a tear).


And transcription:

(old men)no books (3)

on is made in Was—
of the Mone.

Man how pear trees
settle power

to see and believe.


I think I mentioned I came up with this exercise 10 minutes before the first meeting of my Art of Compost class this summer when I saw in my notes “exercise: something with torn pages” and realized I hadn’t worked out what “something” was.

William Carlos Williams famously wrote, “write carelessly, that nothing that is not green survives.” Not sure the same always applies to lesson planning but here it worked okay.

The pages we tore in class were from a battered second copy I had of his Imaginations.

Final projects: Caitlyn

Caitlyn assembled a source text from found material and then performed an erasure on it to generate


          She thinks          this is
                      morning,         “I’ve got my

    things, I’m on the

                    I  have


                      Finally, this

                                                two to one


                        I swim across an
                from an         empty


(Erased from a base text made of the first words of each song on the album Everything in Transit by Jack’s Mannequin.)

One thing I really like here: how the poem combines (composts) two time-honoured practices — the found poem and the erasure poem — in a way that feels seamless and self-assured.