Final projects: Risa

Risa devised a really neat composting practice she’ll summarize below. But first one of the poems resultant:


Water the piece I
visit. Such that I
could be alone. I
want to develop
the thought of you
before I start.

You were the same this
time. None of those
modifiers used
before. Each decade
they drive me to

One thing I really like here is how each sentence or fragment feels both a great distance from, and intimately bound up in, its neighbours. That a poem can be both fragmentary and whole (see, for instance, Creeley’s Pieces). And the fierce enjambments enact the same paradox line-by-line — each line both broken and intact. And the process by which the poem was generated is remarkably close to invisible.

Risa’s account of the process, with some abridgement:

Choose a word you’d like to end your poem or paragraph with. Google search the word (for example, “murder”). Scroll to the end of the first page of results and find the last substantive word in the last search result (for example, “decades”). Note that word down (so you now have a list with two words on it, in our example “murder” and “decades”). Repeat the process, using the second word as your search term, and adding your third word to the list (for example, “each”). Continue until you have around 15 words or get bored. Then compose a poem that uses each word, either in the order they were found in, or in the reverse order (as in our example).

The words Risa used to compose “Murder” are boldfaced above.

Exercise: Compost mural

From a 20 foot mural my class made today in 50 minutes (give or take). 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” (course title). In other words, a crash course in targeted bricolage.

Photocopier poems

My paper towel star cluster poems. Made in five minutes on the department photocopier (and then some cropping via Picassa.) Somewhere in here, somehow, is the fact of having watched  Under the Skin, the first half, last night. Kinda slow, but the opening sequence, mating planet and iris, seems to have stayed with.

Exercise: Photocopier poem

Here’s their “writing” exercise for tomorrow:

After “reading” the examples, compose a poem by messing around on a photocopier. You should try out several kinds of manipulation (e.g., twisting, turning, shaking, fluttering) on several kinds of original (e.g., text, image, object) before deciding on a practice and a source to commit to. And then don’t be dismayed if it takes further trials to get to a poem you feel pleased enough with to hand in.

I played around on the department photocopier today (keeping a wary eye out for L. who had just cleaned the glass to a sparkle) with paperclips, paper towels, binder tabs. The paper towel rolls came out best & I’ll post them tonight.

Exercise: Worm in the compost bin

We’ve talked [my students and I] about erasures that read horizontally and erasures that read vertically. The former preserve more of the gist of the source text. The latter create a more fully new thing, though some of the ground tone of the source, somehow, remains.

I’ve also proposed that composting, broadly construed, includes what we usually think of as “inspiration.” Because what is inspiration but suddenly, in a flash, connecting disparate elements of your own experience, and finding them transformed in each other’s company?

This exercise draws those two gists together: reading vertically, composting your own experience. First, find some of your own prose, between 75 and 150 words, and type it up as a column around three inches wide, give or take half an inch. You should sense a resonance in the prose, an electric charge, though it may fall here and there into cliché, overwriting, or banality.

Transcripts of dreams work well. So do journal entries that have a lot of concrete, specific detail. Here’s an example, a transcript of a dream:

A pathway, root-broken pavement, branches
hang down on both sides, willow branches in
new leaf with towering clusters of tiny white
aromatic flowers. I bring a branch to my face.
The scent is beautiful, pervasive, it floods me
and I begin to cry with a peace I suddenly
know has always been with me. I tell a doctor
on an island and he readies a needle over my
heart on a point called penetrating fragrance.

Kinda sentimenty, with that peace bit, but lots of concrete words to work with. Now, print your source text out, and burrow vertically for word sequences that please you, whether or not they make sense to you. (The pleasure they give is the sense they make.) You can select sequences by circling with a pen; I’ll approximate that in my example by greying the unselected text:

A pathway, root-broken pavement, branches
hang down on both sides, willow branches in 
new leaf with towering clusters of tiny white 
aromatic flowers. I bring a branch to my face. 
The scent is beautiful, pervasive, it floods me
and I begin to cry with a peace I suddenly
know has always been with me. I tell a doctor 
on an island and he readies a needle over my 
heart on a point called penetrating fragrance.

It took me several tries to get to that; print out a few copies, and go through as many times.

Once you have some vertically chosen text that pleases you, arrange it in lines, making what will look to an outsider like a poem received from the Muse, though you’ll know better. Finally, give it a title. In my example:


A path down it
low beautiful cry ways
land to a point. Branches
branch tiny white branch to flood
sudden tell a fragrance

And there’s your poem. Composting? Inspiration? Who can say?

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.