Teaching note

So it’s give or take, who keeps track, the anniversary of this blog, in which honour, here’s from the syllabus to The Art of Compost, the second coming of it.


SOME LIKEMINDED FOLK

Compost is a way of thinking about life and death and art and thought and act. Not a better way but a really quite interesting way. Also, there’s no such thing as compost theory, but if there were, here might be some thoughts of it.

Now I am terrified at the earth, it is that calm and patient,
It grows such sweet things out of such corruptions.
          – Walt Whitman, “This Compost”

Beginning again and again is a natural thing even when there is a series.
          – Gertrude Stein, “Composition as Explanation”

write carelessly so that nothing that is not green will survive
          – William Carlos Williams, Paterson

Life is natural
          in the evolution
                    of matter

Nothing supra-rock
          about it
                    simply

butterflies
          are quicker
                    than rock
          – Lorine Niedecker, “Wintergreen Ridge”

It is only the midden heap, Beauty: shards,
                    scraps of leftover food, rottings,
                    the Dump
where we read history, larvae of all dead things,
                    mixd seeds, waste, off-castings, despised
                    treasure, vegetable putrefactions
          – Robert Duncan, “Nor is the Past Pure”

[You] can go by no track other than the one the poem under hand declares, for itself.
          – Charles Olson, “Projective Verse”

After a long time of light, there began to be eyes, and light began looking with itself.
          – Ronald Johnson, Ark

Poetry is biodegradable thought.
          – Jed Rasula, This Compost

Hey try this out. Where you see “poem” or “poetry,” read “writing.” Does the thought hold?


Sorry for the gap between the posts folks. Rough couple of days in headache land. I have trouble turning off. End of the quarter, all ramped up, grading frenzy, plus madness with the student journal I advise, plus getting prepped for summer compost, and having got it all done, instead of relaxing into a week of sunfull ease – whump.

There I am in line at the Home Depot to pick up my new composter and the sparklies start, migraine’s coming, oh no. (Head, meet composter, headComposter, ha, ha.) Mostly through it now so I can get this bit posted but damn, the body, damn.

Some sympathy let’s for those medievals who reviled it and apotheosized the spirit. Yeah they leave us with a cruddy debit. But just think, boils, cramps, agues, rotten tooth roots, and what did they have to heal yehs? Leaves and leeches.

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Word.

We had a good chat, our first class on the word, about parts of speech and their different powers. I laid a trap by asking, Which part of speech has the most bang for the buck? Adjectives, I was waiting to hear, adverbs. They didn’t fall for it. Verbs, they said, nouns. Yup.

Acts and actors are the meat of it. Things and what they do. Acts and the things they act through. (That one is easy to say, one a bit contorted, says something about the bias of our language.)

But I was headed for the lowly preposition. To get there I told a story. I had been backpacking a couple weeks earlier in the North Cascades. The first day we were sunriddled.

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The next day some clouds came in.

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Through the afternoon they kept on coming.

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The two peaks are Shuksan and Baker. It was spitting rain by the time we set up camp 4000 feet lower by the Chilliwack River.

All the next day was rain. Sorry no pictures. Had to keep moving. We climbed back into the subalpine and set up camp in the pouring rain.

And there we were, huddled under a little tarp stretched between two mountain hemlocks, soaked to the bone, heating water for our freeze-dried soup. And I thought to myself

I’m under a tarp, but it’s raining on me.

And it struck me how much I would give to be able to say instead

It’s raining near me.

Small little word. Big huge diff. And then I thought, pissily,

It’s raining at me.

And thus was a lesson plan born.

We (I’m back in the classroom now) sounded out the changes. What other prepositions can we sub in? How does that one change change the meaning, the feeling?

It’s raining in me (metaphor for sad)

It’s raining for me (God complex)

It’s raining above me (virga)

It’s raining through me (a diffuse or dissolved body)

It’s raining from me (God complex squared)

The nouns and verbs stay the same. The pronouns stay the same. Only the lowly preposition changes. And yet with each change the whole carnival picks up stakes and shifts in a flash to a different world. The word for it is proprioceptive. I take the word from Olson and the image from Dickinson.

I’ve known a Heaven, like a Tent
To wrap its shining Yards
Pluck up its stakes, and disappear
Without the sound of Boards
Or Rip of Nail—Or Carpenter
But just the miles of Stare
That signalize a Show’s Retreat
In North America

No Trace—no Figment of the Thing
That dazzled, Yesterday
No Ring—no Marvel
Men, and Feats
Dissolved as utterly
As Bird’s far Navigation
Discloses just a Hue
A plash of Oars, a Gaiety
Then swallowed up, of View

Check out those nouns, those verbs, those preps. (I count one adjective.) And the feel of being in a mountainous vastness she can never have seen with her physical eye.

The line composts the sentence

Carson’s Sappho composts a dozen ways and more. One one student noted is, the enjambed and lightly punctuated line breaks a (propositional) thought into smaller (experiential) thoughts.

And in it cold water makes a clear sound through
apple branches and with roses the whole place
is shadowed and down from radiant-shaking leaves
sleep comes dropping.

The poet composes the line. The line composts the sentence. That’s general to poetry but more prominent here than often it is. “And in it cold water makes a clear sound through” is a whole phase and phrase and frame of feeling. Notwithstanding its unfinish as a sentence. The effect is to reorient thought — to reorient thinking — away from proposition and toward proprioception.

Opening the field

This by Robert Duncan, in Rasula’s This Compost, out of the body of which many of my thoughts here take sprout.

It is only the midden heap, Beauty: shards,
          scraps of leftover food, rottings,
          the Dump
where we read history, larvae of all dead things,
          mixd seeds, waste, off-castings, despised
          treasure, vegetable putrefactions
– Robert Duncan, “Nor is the Past Pure”

Speaking of the opened field. I’ve found a good prompt for working a way into Olson’s “Projective Verse” with students is to ask them just what that “field” in “composition by field” might be. Last time I did it I was way taken by the breadth of their answers. The page. The sensuous surround at a given perceptive moment. The expanse of possible questions.

I’m paraphrasing here, but my gist is, they helped me see how “composition by field” is itself composed by field, meaning at multiple vectors fruitfully.

Butterfly & rock

Here’s a similar thought to Olson’s (below) but somehow delicater. Olson’s bears down, you can feel the weight of the town crouched on the stone. Niedecker’s comes up through the butterfly and with its lightness.

Life is natural
       in the evolution
              of matter

Nothing supra-rock
       about it
              simply

butterflies
       are quicker
              than rock

– Lorine Niedecker, “Wintergreen Ridge”

What I been areading. NiedeckerNorth Central.

Rock & flowers

That language is material, yes, but alongside it, that matter is a thinking.

earth is interesting:
ice is interesting
stone is interesting

flowers are
Carbon
Carbon is
Carboniferous
Pennsylvania

Age
under
Dogtown
the stone

the watered
rock Carbon
flowers, rills

– Charles Olson, “Maximus—from Dogtown, II”

Brings to mind Issa, that we walk on the roof of hell, gazing at flowers. And Ronald Johnson’s thought that light evolved the eye in order to see itself.

What I’ve been reading here. Jed Rasula, This Compost. Charles Olson, The Maximus Poems.