Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Poetry and Compost

Early in the year P brought home two big plastic compost bins which now live in the back corner behind the garage. All year I have been filling them up with kitchen scraps, grass clippings, weeds and tree prunings. Just when I think they are full up, the contents settle down into a rich mulch, leaving room for more.

I was following a link from Chiefbiscuit's blog to the Academy of American Poets. I noticed that one of the poets recently added to the site was Albert Goldbarth. I discovered Albert Goldbarth on Poetry Daily some years back. What I enjoyed about many of his poems is the rich layering. His own experiences are in his poems, but he has a way of seamlessly linking to the events of the past or the material of science - the way in which the Egyptians bury their dead, a seemingly trivial event from the American Revolution, the Nazca lines in Peru, bits and pieces of science fiction novels. The style of his poems doesn't always appeal to me, but the rich content does. His poems remind me of my compost heap - full of eggshells, and potato peelings, and lawn clippings, which gradually meld together to make something rich and nourishing, that is more than its component parts.

For you really need a mixture to make good compost. If you have too much of one thing it will be too wet, or too dry. On top of a layer of rotten vegetables I add the grass clippings, and if it looks wet, I find some well dried out leaves, or twiggy material, to let the air in. I'm not sure if I've done it right. I'm not investigating too closely yet, because there are bees bumbling in and out of the air holes near the bottom. I don't want to get stung by stirring it up too soon. Maybe it's the same with the materials of poetry. I gather all sorts of bits and pieces, to fill my mind, but it doesn't seem to work if I try to force a poem too soon. Suddenly one day, something comes into my mind and I realise that batch of "compost" is ready.

I want to help the process along though. Adding the whole reach of space and time to my poetry helps avoid the overuse of "I" that January talked about in her blog recently. So today I bought myself a big scrapbook, to collect bits and pieces for my compost. I have an article on the breeding habits of manta rays that intrigued me. And another on how the fifth star of the Southern Cross, which is on the Australian flag but not the New Zealand one (ours has only four), can no longer be seen from Sydney. I'm sure I'll find more to add to the collection - all those interesting things that I mean to keep, and then forget. It's time to start my poetry compost.

Note: It's not that I think that "I" is overused, really. I just want a broader range of subject matter - the link to January's post will link to a very interesting discussion on the use of "I", if you are interested.


Paul Squires said...

An excellent idea. I trust my brain to do my composting, it will remember the things it needs to remember at the right time if I don't interfere too often. That is to say i avoid letting the i think and let the brain work without egocontrol, natural composting.

January said...

I do think much of our best writings comes from broading our subject matter. Your composting is a perfect metaphor for bringing new subjects to the top.

Kay Cooke said...

As thoughtful a post as ever, Catherine. I love what you are doing with your scrapbook - you will never be short of ideas for writing and whatever else you want to do with the snippets.