Write a list poem that uses a single line for each item on the list – 31p31d

Day 7 of 31 Poems in 31 Days.

About Forms

When I decided to write this series, I gave some thought to just how much time I wanted to spend writing about poetry forms. Forms are an interesting exercise for poets. Forms such as sonnet, villanelle, sestina, and ghazal are challenging and can really help beginning poet develop skills such as learning to work with meter, rhythm, rhyme and word choice. The downside is that forms rarely produce great poems, and the more constraints a form puts onto the poet, the less the poet gets to focus on themes and ideas and the more they have to focus on following rules.

I think there is a lot of benefit to be had from learning to work within forms, but I think that they can frustrate people needlessly. Also, if the market for poetry as a whole is tiny, than the market for poetry in forms is microscopic. There just aren’t very many people who are interested in reading them.

The primary goal of this project is to write 31 poems in 31 days. The secondary goal is to produce thirty-one poems that you would feel comfortable putting into a book. While it is possible to write a good villanelle, the odds are stacked against you. So, while I will be getting to such squirrely topics as line, meter and stanzas, I am not going to push a lot of difficult forms on people.

The List Poem

Grocery listThat said, here is a form for you to try. It is actually a relatively easy and fun form that starts us down the path of thinking about the use of the line in poetry. A list poem is exactly what it sounds like. It is poem that takes the form of a list. Every line of the poem (or alternately every stanza) should be a different item on the list. The poem can be about anything that can be listed. Here, in unpoetic form, is a list of lists:

A grocery list
A list of rules
A list of childhood games
A list of reasons you hate mornings
A list of foods you love or hate
A list of everyone who has ever made you angry
A list of everyone you love
A to do list
A list of goals
A list of failures
A list of names for your baby
A list of insults
A list of the best body parts
A list of places you would like to go
A list of features you look for in a new house
A list of the cars you have owned
A list of things that scare you
A list of things you want to do before you get too old
A list of reasons you love your spouse
A list of the things attached to your refrigerator
A list of books you’d read again

The list can go on and on.

The difference between an ordinary list (like the one above) and a list poem is a poem needs themes and structure. It should evoke a feeling from the reader. Each item of the list should have a relationship to or a contrast with the items around it. Each item on the list should be written in the same general style, setting up a rhythm that propels the poem forward. There should be a beginning, a middle and an end so that the reader feels there has been a progression towards a point or a goal.

Today’s Assignment

Write a list poem that uses a single line for each item on the list. Feel free to choose one of the topics above, or use anything else that comes to mind. As always, post the poem in the comments section or in our Facebook group if you would like to share it.

Today’s Recommended Poet

Tony Hoagland is one of my favorite poets. He can be playful, but he can also be bitter and sarcastic at times, which is a selling point for me but might turn some people off. More importantly, he can turn a phrase on a dime. One line plays off the next with beauty and precision. You never know where he is heading until he is finished.

You can read a few of his poems in the web:

Grammar
Jet
Lucky

Here are his books:

Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty: Poems 2010
Little Oceans 2009
Hard Rain 2005
What Narcissism Means to Me 2003
Donkey Gospel 1998
Sweet Ruin 1993

0 comments

    • Yes Rosemary, you need to go on. Shakespeare was hundreds of years ago and even Yeats is about a hundred years in the past (and far from one of my favorites). Tell me some recent great form poems.

  1. Old Family Recipe

    You’ll need one ripe, preconceived notion
    And a generous cup of ideals that no one could ever live up to
    Add liberal sprinkles of criticism
    Top with a dollop of disappointment
    Stir
    Cover with a heavy, heavy lid
    Let simmer for 40-odd years
    When it smells like despair, it’s ready
    Come to the table!
    We have enough low self-esteem for everyone

  2. Memories from 1979 or maybe 1980

    My dad’s semi
    Living alone
    Sulking
    Lying
    Playing Atari
    Stealing money
    Carnivals
    Cowboy boots
    Baseball caps
    A ton of hair
    Highwaters
    Muscles
    Ulcers
    Thinking I hit a home run
    Punching walls
    Lifting weights
    Arm wrestling
    Showing up uninvited
    Spitting out beer
    Cotton mouth
    Pink Floyd
    Daniel Pinkwater
    Ox Goes North
    Burning my finger on the kiln
    The smell of lacquer
    The dog that always barked when I walked by
    Cannon balls
    Swimming at night
    Diving for rocks at the bottom of the pool
    Swimming in a five am dawn
    Floating
    Getting warm in the sun
    Jumping from the roof of the shed
    Spraining my ankle
    Riding my 12-speed
    Knowing who my best friend was
    Not knowing who my best friend was
    Reading a book of Beatles’ lyrics
    My sister’s record collection
    Frosted donuts
    Salisbury steak and fries
    Hot dogs
    Mosquito bites
    Apples
    Melons
    Harold Robbins
    Vaseline
    Doing my own laundry
    Combination locks
    Listening in on phone calls
    Keeping secrets
    Not saying goodbye

  3. Ah, you didn’t initially specify contemporary. Greatness is usually decided by consensus over time. (And if you don’t like Yeats, indubitably sone of the greatest poets in the English language, I’m not sure we can even have a conversation.)

    However, try these — some more recent than others, but all alive well into my lifetime, even if nit all are still with us. Some are already being thought of as great poets. That doesn’t prove that these samples are great poems, of course, but they are at least excellent and I think show that great poems using form are perfectly possible.

    http://poetryblogroll.blogspot.com.au/2013/11/i-wish-id-written-this_29.html

    http://poetryblogroll.blogspot.com.au/2013/10/i-wish-id-written-this.html

    http://poetryblogroll.blogspot.com.au/2013/08/i-wish-id-written-this_16.html

    http://poetryblogroll.blogspot.com.au/2013/04/i-wish-id-written-this_19.html

    http://poetryblogroll.blogspot.com.au/2013/03/i-wish-id-written-this_8.html

    http://poetryblogroll.blogspot.com.au/2012/09/i-wish-id-written-this_3506.html

    http://poetryblogroll.blogspot.com.au/2012/05/i-wish-id-written-this_25.html

    http://poetryblogroll.blogspot.com.au/2012/07/i-wish-id-written-this_20.html

    http://poetryblogroll.blogspot.com.au/2012/03/i-wish-id-written-this_16.html

    http://poetryblogroll.blogspot.com.au/2011/12/i-wish-id-written-this_09.html

    http://poetryblogroll.blogspot.com.au/2011/10/i-wish-id-written-this_28.h

    • Rosemary,

      About Yeats. I recognize that he is quite skilled. He is a master. Unfortunately, when I read a poem like The Second Coming, as much as I admire the skill and the layers, it all feels like artifice. Nothing about it stirs any emotion in me. It is the kind of poem I would write a paper on, not read for enjoyment. When I think about why people don’t read poetry, I think of poems like that. In fact, when I wrote 7 Easy Steps to a More Pretentious Poem that poem was definitely on my mind.

      I did not say form poems NEVER make for great poetry (although not many of your examples made much of an impact on me, I can tell you enjoy them), so let me put it another way. Most (though certainly not all) of the truly terrible poetry I have read, has used forms.

  4. Day 7 – A List Poem

    velvet talcum bottom
    bare skin to skin melt
    milk body temp heat
    hot winds blow curtains
    covering the bright sun
    shining on that down covered
    crown – a son – new word
    whispered in frangipani
    floating in a long ago room

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