I certainly didn’t invent the metaphor of composting in a literary sense, but neither do I know who to attribute it to. Natalie Goldberg seems as good a genius as any, though. In her inspirational classic Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within she uses the composting metaphor to present a powerful method of using the richness of life experiences to “fertilize” and enrichen writing.

“Our senses by themselves our dumb. They take an experience, but they need the richness of sifting for a while through our conciousness and through our whole bodies…Our bodies are garbage heaps: we collect experience, and from the decomposition of the thrown-out eggshells, spinach leaves, coffee grinds, and old steak bones of our minds come nitrogen, heat and very fertile soil.”

 I find the process of literary composting extremely helpful when I’m stuck for coherent, complete and ripe language. When I make it a practice to simply “stir up” the mush that is there I find some real juicy worms, so to speak. As with real compost, there are some rich and surprising things decomposing/recomposing beneath the surface. Nutritious stuff being heat and chemically transformed to be the fuel of future crops and poems.

Composting is a process that requires patience and detachment. Even more so with literary composting. You must completely kick the internal judge out and stir. Some might call it stream of consciousness, but I give it a little structure by keeping the verbal output in simple stanzas.

Here are some examples from my journal.

From 9-2-08

fractonal balloon
each Wednesday feeling
hurricane of promises
18 needs
I never met or listed
or missed
whiter zipper-suited
toxic dudes
feeling the pond
with wands

red truck door
dented
cowboy love
for breakfast

never wear caps
in financial temples
it’s offensive to
the poor.

from 12-12-08

the arch-duke of peanut butter
has superb manners
even his factories
kill within guidelines
and with the new
old methods.

no one understands
how stars breathe

except by remembering
what they’ll be in
the gardens
of imagination.

bamboo switch
fly conduct
shaman of white feathers
and porches
peace was a song
with a few notes

the fundamental atoms
still sing.

from 5-31-09

so you’ve strung up
the testicles of your seven
arch enemies and won
the Pulitzer.

the gems of a marshmallow,
editing for trash
aching for Serena
flying in bitch-heat
shortpants

olden day black glow
hand cranked something
so dressed up to sweat
they made kids breathe
back then.

Ginsberg thought-breathes
one to ten
the crack of a Pepsi
the cry of a wren.

And stir and stir and stir….

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About bensten

Teacher, writer, blogger and spiritual practitioner. Managing editor of bensten.wordpress.com.

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