This week in the Poetry Workshop, it’s reading and writing list poems. As you can see, my students did a stellar job of coming up with a huge variety of types of list — so many more than I had thought up on my own.
I wonder about the list as a structure and a form. A list is certainly a kind of repetition, in the way that rhyme is a repetition, or refrain. As a form a list may set up a clear/particular premise or expectation. Included under the umbrella of “list poem” for me are the techniques of anaphora and epistrophe. One student introduced us to a third — epanalepsis.
It seems to me that writing and reading list poems (or “litanies”) brings to the fore particular poetic concerns, at least for me. List poems make me think more about order and arrangement — does a list escalate? Fork out into tangents? How might juxtaposition of dissimilar items work as a kind of energy in a list poem?
If the list is numbered, what do the numbers bring to the table? When to number, when not?
Also: how do you find a way to END a list poem?
Also: titles seem especially important for list poems, or for certain types of list poems.
Also: how does the nature of a list (different types of lists) affect thinking about lines and stanzas? Line = item on list? Stanza = item on list?
Also: what happens to syntax (verbs, especially) with a list? Some kinds of lists are very noun-y.
Also, how might “listing” and narrative/linearity interplay?
POEM PACKET of examples we read in class:
Christopher Smartt: from Jubilate Agno
Stephanie Lenox, “Rejoice in the Petty Thievery of Office Supplies”
Joy Harjo, “She Had Some Horses”
danez smith, “alternate names for black boys”
Savannah Sipple, “A List of Times I Thought I Was Gay”
“4 Ways of Throwing Something into the Boston Public Gardens Swan Pond,” “the bullshit,” and “non-hierarchial list of love poem ideas,” all by jamie mortara
“Things I Have Failed At” by Baruch Porras-Hernandez
“Things That Appear Ugly Or Troubling But Upon Closer Inspection Are Beautiful” by Gretchen Legler
In different days, those two lists I just wrote — a list of things I’m thinking about with list poems and a list of list poems — would perhaps be combined and expanded into more of a little essay. Alas, these days are filled with so many other lists, which even now are glowering at me as I take time away from to share even these scantest, barely-conceived thoughts.
I’ll end with a VERY OLD list poem I wrote when I was living in Lincoln, Nebraska. It took me a while to remember I had written such a poem — but — here it is.
The ones you never see.
The ones you always see.
The drunk one who stumbles
up onto your porch
to triangulate his walkie-talkie.
The nosy ones.
The slovenly ones.
The ones who are beautiful.
The muzzled dog that barks
anyway, each time you park
or open your door or sneeze loudly.
The ones who speak no English.
The ones who speak only English.
The ones who don’t speak.
The ones who listen.
The kid, the one who steals
lawn ornaments you never liked anyhow.
The shady one, or the one
with shady friends.
The quiet one.
The one whose window is always blue
and flickering with TV light.
The ones whose windows
are never open.
The dead ones.
The ones who play guitar.
The yelling guy.
The dancing girls.
The naked one.
The ones who go to church
in the windowless white building
on the corner.
The one who hates you.
The one on public access.
The ones who have
two testy Siamese cats.
The mean one.
The scary ones.
The sweet one.
The one who dreamt
last night of you
but who will never say.
The one you dreamt about.
Those who smoke summer evenings
on porches facing yours.
Those who ride bikes.
Those who fly flags.
Those who do Halloween,
candy, decorations, all of it.
The ones you wonder about.
The ones who know your name
and the ones who don’t,
who have barbecues.
The ones who wonder about you.