Wednesday, April 18, 2012

the list & pink tights

lalage in seattle--tomorrow night, provo.  wish my pink tights were still alive.

all this talk of lists got me writing this prompt for my wednesday guest spot at book balloon:

(if you've missed the other prompts, let the table speak is here and a missive, a supplication is here.)

No method is better at reminding the poet of the power of juxtaposition and letting the white space do the talking than the list (also known as the catalogue) poem.  No method is better at freeing you from the constraint or pressure of forcing unity into your poem, something those of us trained on the sonnet might feel from time to time. 

It’s also one of my favorites for getting out of a rut, which maybe a few of us are feeling after a month of trying to keep up with all this intense thinkin’ and poetry writin’.  Try a list poem to get yourself over the mid-national poetry month hump:  when it’s too hard to make the connections, leave them out.  If you’ve been thinking too hard, stop.  The list can be spontaneous, absurd, profound, funny, lyrical or, in its best incarnation, all of those things at once.


I keep a lot of lists—and my lists are so far flung and various that it’s almost absurd.  Here’s an actual list I found from an old notebook eight years ago when I had a baby with respiratory illness and was working on Ph.d, teaching, raising 3 older children, feeding a vegetarian teen, buying a house, trying to write and publish a book of poetry, and basically juggling a lot of different sizes and shapes of balls:

1)    Order more tender grips from IHC.
2)    Make baba ganoush.
3)    Find copy of out of print Spicer book.
4)    Write Baudelaire paper.
5)    L’s reading assessment appointment.
6)    Buy dry erase markers.
7)    Find phone charger.
8)    Change oil.
9)    Soup to Grandma Beth.
10)    Write Daniel’s grant.

That list isn’t particularly poignant or profound, funny, absurd, or lyrical on it’s own, but if I fleshed it out just a tiny bit more for you, it would be.

Here’s a list poem I wrote in the early ‘90’s.  I’m only sharing it with you to show you an example of the poem, not because I’m particularly proud of it (though it has some okay moments):

I Will Write Ten Poems About What Happened to Me in Prison

I rested my cheek against a cool bar.

I dreamt of my scented mother, her sweet warm milk fed to me with a breast slipped
between the bars of my prison.  I was saddened to think the bars might chill her.

I quietly, embarrassingly, crying all the while, used the toilet.

I designed a gown that was later actualized by Donna Karan.

I pretended my enclosure was a crib for babies, and that I would soon be lifted from it.

Out of hunger, fear, and compulsiveness, I ate the inside of my mouth.

I asked that all bullets fired at 10:57 turn toward me, enter me like they were all my man, and release me at once from my body, far worse than any jail.

I vowed to become more ladylike.

I questioned my former disregard of Catholic mysticism.

My body kept telling me to run, but my mind quietly insisted that I stay put.


If you really want a catalogue tour de force, invest 20 minutes and read Christopher Smart’s Jubilate Agno.  (that link I trust a bit more because it's from poetry foundation, but this link has the full text and gives a better sense of the list/repetitive qualities of the poem.) Holy crap, it’s good & pretty crazy under the surface.  Notice the repetition at each line’s beginning and then the long shifts from “bless” to “praise” to “rejoice”.

The list poem can be a lot of things, and ideally, all things exist and co-exist without any need to justify, explain, or force a monolithic meaning out of the beautiful and absurd disparity that makes up a human life.  So don’t force—flow. 

Here are a few lists you might try making into poems.  Bon chance!

1)    grocery list
2)    imperative list—second person
3)    list of books
4)    to do list
5)    “I will. . .” list
6)    a list of favorite dresses, actors, plays, shoes, etc.
7)    a list of medications
8)    list of things you love/hate about____________
9)    a list of America
10)  a list of ten things you see from wherever it is you’re sitting

legwear:  grey herringbone tights to match the grey weather

inspiration:  radiohead "in rainbow" and c.'s "how to be spring"

looking forward:  performing in tomorrow night's show at muse with lalage


  1. I LOVE that list poem of yours sooooo much. Astounding!

  2. Lara, I don't have your email but wanted to share this with you ... I'm listening at work & thought you might enjoy it too:
    Hope you're having a great day!

    1. thanks, tina. LOVE meredith monk!

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