The Blog of John Hewitt

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