April: Dirt

This month, I thought about dirt in many different ways. Each theme surfaced organically (ha ha) by building off the theme that came before it. It was fun to wander like this, although it took more time and led to an (over?) abundance of poems and ideas.

Dirt Themes by Day

April 1: Started the month with a plan to read some of Emily Dickinson’s letters to Higginson. Gave some attention to the idea of “startled grass.” Then decided, because it is National Poetry Month, to do a different Bernadette Mayer writing prompt each day. The first few days of the month are often all over the place as I work to figure out what my theme will be.

April 3: Started on my first writing prompt — “Compose a list of familiar phrases, or phrases that have stayed in your mind for a long time–from songs, from poems, from conversation” — which led me to the actual topic for the month, dirt. Today’s theme for dirt: the kids’ song with the lyrics, “the worms crawl in, the worms crawl out,” which I remember singing as a kid and sometimes think about as an adult.

Feeding the Worms/ Danish Lameris

April 4: Humus and dirt vs. soil

Ode to Dirt/ Sharon Olds
Life is Beautiful/DORIANNE LAUX

April 5: Loam

Loam/ Carl Sandburg
Unveiling/ Gail Mazur
The Theft Outright/ Heid E. Erdrich

April 6: Mud and sinking down into the earth

Muddy/ Orlando White
Into the Mud/ Joyce Sidman

april 8: fungi, decomposition, entanglement, mycelium. Including: decomposition of the self; mutuality and symbiosis, underneath and on the edges; precocity and alienation; the fungus among us; mushroom valley; and Arthur Sze.

Entanglement/ Arthur Sze

April 9: Merlin Sheldrake and entanglement. Including: how are we like fungi and how can we be more like fungi?; the wood wide web; and against altruism.

Mushroom Hunting in the Jemez Mountains/ Arthur Sze

April 10: studying mushroom language and the dangers of anthropomorphism

The Ants/ Matthew Rorher
Things/ LISEL MUELLER

April 11: gravel and rubbled asphalt. Including: definitions of gravel; gravel in the gorge; gritty gravel; dirt and gravel words; Oswald and the Tin-extractor; and Mary Oliver and gravel as dust as death.

An Ordinary Misfortune [“She is girl. She is gravel.”]/ EMILY JUNGMIN YOON

April 12: expressions with dirt, especially dirt bag; the idea of dirt = dirty = bad = undesirable, unwanted = death = uncivilized = impure = contaminated.

from Kingdom Animalia/ Aracelis Girmay

April 14: shovel. Including: a tool used to loosen and bury things in the ground; and digging in and developing foundations; the Golden Shovel.

The Golden Shovel/ TERRANCE HAYES
We Real Cool/ Gwendolyn Brooks

April 15: dust. Including: dust as the great equalizer (we all come from dust and return to it); how we are dust and more than dust; dusting as a sacred chore; dust as a fine powder we inhale/absorb without noticing; toxic dust; environmental racism and who does/doesn’t have access to cleaner air.

Dust Poem/ Philip Jenks
Dusting/ Marilyn Nelson
Dust/ Dorianne Laux

April 16: planting seeds

April 17: gardening. Including: tuning my body and my brain; Alice Oswald and “echo-poetics”; digging work; listening work; in search of our mother’s gardens.

The Garden Song/ sung by John Denver
Digging/ Seamus Heaney
Digging in the Dirt/ Peter Gabriel

April 18: digging up; excavating; and caring for/remembering the dead

Pear Snow/ Todd Dillard
After the Rain/ jared Carter

April 19: roots. Including: how do we establish roots?; what kind of roots do we establish — a single, sturdy root or networks of roots?; root chants.

 What Would Root/ Katie Farris
Full of yourself/ Rumi

April 21: nets, networks, hyphae

April 22: revising a haibun, On the Dirt Path Near Falwell Avenue

ted talk/ JENNY ZHANG
In the Basement of the Goodwill Store/ Ted Kooser

April 23: being inspired by entanglement and mycelium

April 25: more about entanglement, including: looking (to what’s) below; mushrooms as the subconscious bursting up; relationships/networks that are neither about harmony or conquest

Mushrooms/ Sylvia Plath

April 26: rot

For the Lobar, Usnea, Witches Hair, Map Lichen, Beard Lichen, Ground Lichen, Shield Lichen/ Jane Hirshfield

April 27: Merlin Sheldrake and Entangled Life

April 29: more on entanglement, mycelium, hyphae, and dirt, including: fungi at the mississippi river gorge and trails to hike to see them; mushrooms bursting through asphalt; polyphony in music, hyphae, and my vision; how fungi might inspire whimsy; lichen can be killed but if all their needs are met, they don’t die; and “the baddest fungi on the block.”

I’d Rather Be / Mitchell Nobis

So many interesting ways to think about dirt and what is below us! I started this month with the aim of writing a poem about entanglement, but I’m struggling to make that happen. I guess I haven’t spent enough time with the fungi to write about them? Or, I don’t feel like I have anything to contribute yet? Whatever it is, this effort to produce something when I wasn’t ready, has made some of these later run logs less inspiring, harder to write.

Experiment to try again: before/during/after

As with most experiments, I’m not sure how the idea of this came to me, but it did, and I tried it. Decide on a topic for the day related to dirt. Before the run, spend a few minutes (or hours) being curious about your chosen topic. Watch videos, gather poems, skim scientific studies. Type up your notes in the draft of a log entry with the heading, “before the run.” Right before heading out for the run, decide on something or some things related to this topic that you want think about as you run. Go out for a run and try to think about these things. Either record some of your thoughts while you run, or just after you finish on your walk home, or right when you return home. Type up your thoughts in the log entry, under the heading, “during the run.” Finally, add in any new thoughts you’re having and/or reflections on the the before and during run sections. Put these under the heading, “after the run.”

assessment of experiment: Spending time with dirt in this way was fun. I learned a lot and found many different ways to explore what’s beneath my feet — in poetry, creative writing, science and pop-science. I think I’ll try this again, with a few tweaks:

  • More restrictions on the before the run: a time limit (30 minutes?) or focusing only on one thing (topic/poem/article). This part took too long and gave me too many ideas.
  • At least sometimes, be more deliberate about what to think about during the run. A word, or a line from a poem, or a question that directs my thoughts more concretely
  • Variation: start with too many ideas, then see what sticks OR start with no ideas and see what happens.
  • Find a way to document thoughts during the run: record them into my phone while I’m running, bring a notebook, try a mnemonic device?

Future directions for exploration

  • think about decomposition and process of breaking down in relation to erosion — how are these different ways of breaking down the self? how do they work by the gorge?
  • polyphony and peripheral vision
  • the importance of things we don’t see, will never see
  • Alice Oswald and echo-poetics
  • what/how can we learn from fungi?