Poetics of Compost

Excerpt from “The Poetics of Compost” by Redwood Reider

Compost is the most magic alchemy I know: huge piles of the stuff no one wants, transmuting into divine elixir that nourishes life. It feels like a hopeful metaphor for all the shit that happens to us, and ecological renewal, and social change. Sometimes, destruction gives birth to new life. Sometimes, massive change comes about through many humble, tiny beings (microbes… or humans) working in sync.

I did not expect the following to become one of my most-requested poems. It was just supposed to be for a dear friend & gardening teacher while we were each going through our own rough times of inner composting. But apparently some other people besides me really, really love compost. I often hesitate to share my poems written down because they were made for speaking and breathing, so maybe you can read it aloud. To your compost pile.

–Redwood Reider


To make good compost, you need mostly:

  • A source of carbon (woody biomass);
  • A sprinkling of nitrogen (kitchen scraps, clippings of grass, or anything that fell out of an animal’s ass);
  • a diversity of materials to make it nutritionally rich, in the right ratios so it burns hot enough to kill twitch.


  • a sprinkling of water;
  • some straw to cover;
  • and a deep appreciation for
    Great Mother.

To make good compost,
you’ve got to have a
soul appreciation
that creation
comes out
of the break
of all that we

To make good compost, it helps
if you’re a warrior of love.
It helps if you understand & track movements of
planets spinning
through constellations above.

To make good compost, if helps if you know how
to dance (well that’s not scientifically proven but
you might as well dance.)

To make good compost, you’ve got to depend on
what you can’t see,
stand outside on freezing winter nights
shoveling the great steaming mystery
running up hills grasping panting with loss
sitting in the starwell sobbing in frustration
beating our drums, beating our chests, howling
at the moon for a while –

It’s all part of the pile.

You’ve got to embrace giving, to go on living.

Nothing would ever grow again
if the cell wall of
the woodbark
refused to fall apart,
to recombine.

Nothing holds on
as hard as our minds.

To make good compost, you’ve got to be
willing to crack open.

You’ve got to be willing to rearrange
even if people look at you strange, you’ve got to be
willing to surrender
to the forces of nature
and you know that something dies
but something lives forever.

You’ve got to be willing to wait and
and wait …

and willing to burn from within
in the faith that you will break down but you
will rise and grow again till again, Holy One,
you break down
and again emerge in new form
sprouting tender and green
from the ground.

About Still Water Sangha of MN

We are a community, formed with enthusiasm and joy, practicing Mindfulness and Meditation together in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh. We meet on Monday nights from 7-8:30pm in a private home in Stillwater, Minnesota.
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