Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Workshop: I'm Making a List...

We're all making lists this time of year: lists of what we're thankful for, what we want for the holidays, what we'll do different in the next year. Then there are the little remembered everyday lists, which can be just as important. The grocery list for Thanksgiving dinner. The list of to-do's before the family arrives to visit. The invite list for a New Year's party. The list of stores to hit pre-sunrise on Black Friday. The list...yes, I said it...goes on and on.

Which makes me think of list poems. Whitman was a master of these, with his "Out of the cradle endlessly rocking, Out of the mocking-bird's throat, the musical shuttle,/Out of the ninth-month midnight," etc. Other contemporary poets who have tackled the list poem include C.D. Wright, Jorie Graham, and Lynn Emmanuel.

But what makes a list poem a poem, and not simply a list? Metaphorical leaps in logic and imagistic language are musts, as well as attention to the musicality of the line. Try this: begin each line the same way. You can use Whitman's "Out of..." or another broad phrase (into... if you... what I mean is...). Then complete the line. Over and over. As many times, and in as many different ways as you can. You can also try describing something using this list technique (The city like... The desert is... My wife with...).

Don't worry in the initial drafting about perfection. The key to a good list poem is the cutting and revising afterwards. Then, and only then, after you have something to work with, can you make a poem out of a list. But whatever you do, don't write a poem starting with "I'm thankful for..." Save that for the dinner table or holiday card.

1 comment:

Donna Cappello said...

I'm thankful three!