Wow, December pounced like a crouching cat; one moment invisible, the next, a lightning fast blur, possibly with claws. We were not prepared. Fortunately, this month, the Poetry Seven are celebrating with a list poem.
I fell in love with list poems in grad school, where I was introduced to the work of Christopher Smart, a man who was remarked upon by Samuel Johnson and others of his day, as brilliant, if mad. Despite the alleged madness, he wrote one of the most beautiful examples of list poetry from the 18th century.
List poems, all beginning with all the same word, have no rhyme or meter requirements. The idea of “making a list, checking it twice,” is an accessible entrance into poetry, and I invite everyone to jump in and try one. Of course, being the Poetry Sisters and closing out our TENTH YEAR of writing poetry together (YOU GUYS. OUR FIRST CROWN SONNET WAS IN 2008), we had to give ourselves (but not you) a few more challenges. Liz challenged us to use two words from this list: paper, stars, messages, promises, dirt, flour, rum, hope. (Yeah, we’re all a little horrified at the dirt rum, too.) Okay! So, you’re ready to jump in?
No? You’re stalling — fine. Go, read a list poem from one of the other sisters. I’ll wait — go on, go see what Laura’s doing. Or Sara. Or Andi. Or Liz. Or Tricia. Or, Kelly. You can even check in with the rest of the poets at the Poetry Friday roundup, hosted today by Elizabeth Steinglass. You’re sure to find a lot to enjoy there.
You’re back? Excellent.
I chose to use the word “at” because a transitional preposition echoes Christopher Smart’s use of “let” and “for” which began the lines of many of his list poems. And, because lately my life has been a series of rehearsals or performances and crashes, I focused on endings.
at evening’s end: a list poem
at last, we sing out Handel’s hallelujah
at this, o faithful (joyful and triumphant) come
at least , we flee – a flurry of good wishes
at best, withdraw before our voice succumbs
at first, trade suits and sleek for tea and flannel
at that, then all is calm, or just less bright;
at home we decompresses with ruminations
at length, compare our stories of the night
at any rate, we, gloriously deshabille
at peace, retreat from glitter’s swirling sway
at times, the evening’s echoes bring us wonder!
at rest, blessedly still, still, still.
If you’re still here at the end of all of my “ats” you get a bonus poem – the one I wrote first. As usual, the minute there’s a Poetry Seven challenge with RULES, my brain produces a poem which flouts them all. So, this isn’t a list poem! But, it does use all the words.
I was thinking about the empty corners of the holidays – when one stands away from the blinking lights and the tinsel, sometimes there is only dark and cold – and weariness. Those are the times I pull out the decorations made from old cards, the photographic card I’ve kept, and remember past good wishes and fond hopes. Intentional celebration seeks out the roots of joy — and that root is the selfless gift of an open heart – whether you believe that’s a divine heart, or merely the heart of family and friends. Celebrate that — whatever else you do this month.
the snipped-out shapes of cherubim
from greeting cards amassed
are miscellaneous monuments
to ghosts of christmas past.
from piles of portraits, faces shine
now taller, older, — gone…
scrawled messages of “hope to see!”
– a future counted on.
these heart-bright scraps – these paper stars
in card stock firmament
ignite the night with promises
leaving love’s fingerprint.