Advertisement for Hudson’s Soap, c. 1912
glory nestles into a little dirt, and
dirt slickens as fine as ecstasy: well, Ι
suppose some polar opposite is spread apart
there to arrange the coming together of things
—A. R. Ammons, out of “Scat Scan” (Glare, 1998)
Wit is the only barrier between ourselves and them.
“Fifty four forty or fight,” we say holding a gun-barrell in our
There is still a landscape I live on. Trees
Growing where trees shouldn’t be. No trees growing where
trees are. A mess
Of nature. Inconvenient
To the pigs and groins and cows
Of all these settlers.
Settling itself down
In a dirt solution . . .
—Jack Spicer, out of “Seven Poems for the Vancouver Festival”
(Book of Magazine Verse, 1965)
Tuba booms. A slope filled with soldiers sifting through the large charred green debris, explosion of a helicopter. Primal soup. Red sky above a dry land. Forms from nouns are known. Red dirt hills. Pineapple slices.
—Ron Silliman, out of “Ketjak” (The Age of Huts (compleat), 2007)
Oregano, stout. Loud voices though only on album.
The blood cells were repeated, as the trees the sky.
No erasures, no nothing pending. Entrance through
the hoarding, the penciling betrayal of stiffness.
Monkeys under the limit, the ground full of dirts.
Blank face, black avenue.
—Clark Coolidge, out of The Crystal Text (1986)
. . . it’s a struggle
To create both staminate and pistillate in the same
Inflorescence of cluster, I feel a great impatience,
All the people in my family have sensuous lips
I say like a man or woman who does head home
With all that dirt under my nails
I know nothing
But the lassitude of love . . .
—Bernadette Mayer, out of Midwinter Day (1982)
And as the plant grows older it realizes it will never be a tree,
Will probably always be haunted by a bee
And cultivates stupid impressions
So as not to become part of the dirt. The dirt
Is mounting like a sea. And we say goodbye
Shaking hands in front of the crashing of the waves
That give our words lonesomeness, and make these flabby hands seem ours— . . .
—John Ashbery, out of “‘How Much Longer Will I Be Able to Inhabit
the Divine Sepulcher . . .’” (The Tennis Court Oath, 1962)
I have made
The little dish, dirt brown, mulberry
White, powder blue or oceanic green—is half human and any
Thing peacock is “divine.”
the little dishes, brown, mulberry
or sea green are half human and waiving the matter of artistry,
anything which can not be reproduced, is “divine.”
—Marianne Moore, out of a 9 January 1919 letter to Ezra Pound
(The Selected Letters of Marianne Moore, 1997)
whatever you have to say, leave
the roots on, let them
And the dirt
just to make clear
where they came from
—Charles Olson, out of Archaeologist of Morning (1970)
If I think of my element, it is not of fire,
of ember and ash, but of earth,
nor of man’s travail and burden
to work in the dirt, but of the abundance,
the verdant rhetorical. Servant of the green,
the Gardener of the Hesperides . . .
—Robert Duncan, out of “Returning to the Rhetoric of an Early Mode”
(Roots and Branches, 1964)
“Why, this is hell.” Out of the death breeding
Soil, here, rise emblems of innocence, snowdrops that struggle
Easily into life and hang their white enamel heads toward the dirt
And in the yellow grass are small wild crocuses from hills goats
Have cropped to barrenness. . . .
—James Schuyler, out of “Hymn to Life” (Hymn to Life, 1974)
waver between chords of symmetry, unable
to pin down the beat.
Of all we survey, how often are we
distracted by the least substantial—the ditch
gaping like a grave for the tower,
catfish heads scattered in the dirt, and
ditchwater dull as resin.
—Forrest Gander, out of “The Broken Tower” (Eye Against Eye, 2005)
Anson Dart pierced the forest,
fell upon wild strawberries.
Frosts, fires, land speculation, comet.
Corn to be planted.
How to keep the strawberries?—
Indians’ sugar full of dirt.
How to keep the earth.
—Lorine Niedecker, out of “Pioneers” (New Goose, 2002)
286 I do not forget you,
287 I am just gone out for to-night,
288 The Royal Stag is abroad,
289 I am gone out hunting,
290 The leaves have lit by the moon.
291 Even in their dirt, the Angles like Angels
292 Brooks Nash, for instance, faisant un petit
bruit, mais très net,
293 Saying, He who is afraid to do that should
be denied the privilege,
294 And where the automobile roads with the
295 Appropriately the katydid—
296 Ka-ty did . . . . Ka-ty didn’t . . . .
—Louis Zukofsky, out of “Poem Beginning ‘The’”
(Anew: Complete Shorter Poetry, 2011)
I never swept the sand from where I was going to sit down. Was also a friend, one point breaking close. The postman became a mailman. Moving to some harder way to see without blocking what’s to see. Top time—with a finger and a stretch of smooth sand. Dust is hairy dirt, furry dirt. I laugh as if my pots were clean, in good spirits, well-rested, humming a nameless, a tuneless, tune. The degree to which you’re sucked in, you soak it up. One looks out windows at windows, nose in a book.
—Lyn Hejinian, out of My Life (1980)
“If there’s nothing / out the windows / look at books”
I feel the earth pulsing against my heart.
They call me The Dirt Eater.
—Frank O’Hara, out of “To the Mountains in New York”
(The Collected Poems of Frank O’Hara, 1971)
The Atlantic fleet.
—Ted Berrigan, out of “Isolate” (The Collected Poems of Ted Berrigan, 2005)
Enfold me wherever
night brought pinpoint
arrays the stars
summon fled field
monster after monster
a Voyage fantastic
the very dirt alert
where upon pure leap
power to umpteenth
no won Erewhon
—Ronald Johnson, out of “Blocks to Be Arranged in a Pyramid” (1996)
And then to take hold of semblance and call it
Nothing as dirt is zapped through
With habit and lacking a better verb I promote
This inauthenticity and the earth is a tipping dish
Where chance wears its messed up items
Entirely apart from intention.
—Lisa Robertson, out of “First Spontaneous Horizontal Restaurant”
(Lisa Robertson’s Magenta Soul Whip, 2009)
is to hold
Then take any word
and split it,
make it soil itself
to seem fertile.
are the dirt’s
Fecund. Cunning. (Cunt)
—Rae Armantrout, out of “My Associates” (The Pretext, 2001)
Moon, cloud, tower, a patch of the battistero
all of a whiteness,
dirt pile as per the Del Cossa inset
think not that you wd/ gain if their least caress
were faded from my mind
I had not loved thee half so well
Loved I not womankind . . .
—Ezra Pound, out of “Canto LXXIX” (The Pisan Cantos, 1948)
The vetch has turned purple. But where is the bride?
It is easy to say to those bidden—But where,
Where, butcher, seducer, bloodman, reveller,
Where is sun and music and highest heaven’s lust,
For which more than any words cries deeplier?
This mangled, smutted semi-world hacked out
Of dirt. . . It is not possible for the moon
To blot this with its dove-winged blendings.
—Wallace Stevens, out of “Ghosts as Cocoons”
(The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens, 1954)
the smell of earth
being upon you too—
there is something
some subtle difference,
one last amour
to be divided for
our death-necklaces, when
I would merely lie
hand in hand in the dirt with you.
—William Carlos Williams, out of “Spring Song”
(The Collected Poems of William Carlos Williams: 1909-1939, 1986)
And what does it come to, Pilgrim,
This walking to and fro on the earth, knowing
That nothing changes, or everything;
And only, to tell it, these sad marks,
Phrases half-parsed, ellipses and scratches across the dirt?
It comes to a point. It comes and it goes.
—Charles Wright, out of “Skins” (Bloodlines, 1975)