{poetry friday: p7 list poems}

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 evidence

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.

7 Replies to “{poetry friday: p7 list poems}”

  1. Thank you for so much.
    For Christopher Smart and
    for his cat poem.
    For blessing us (you and the other six)
    for 10 years (TEN!!) with your Poetry Princess poems.
    For not one, but two list poems.
    For the peace and love in both.

  2. Well, didn’t you have to go put us to shame? First off, we had to start with the same word? Ack! I didn’t know that–and didn’t do that, either. Ah, well. Your list poem is just gorgeous: at peace, retreat from glitter’s swirling sway – I love glitter and swirling–such a great description of winter. But if it’s describing the crowds at a mall, count me out! And that final line. I need some stillness so much right now. I also love your rule-flouting poem, though it made me cry. A future counted on, indeed. And that card stock firmament. Thank you for this beautiful reminder of life’s fragility and how important it is that we live our life in love. xox

  3. Lovely, Tanita. So glad you ended with rest, and love. I’m going over those old cards too, and savoring them.

    I think I missed the rule about repeating the beginning word – either in my rush or in my rule avoiding, who can tell?

  4. Wonderful poems, both — love the joy and festive spirit. Favorite part of the list poem:
    “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.”

    The whole thing is wonderfully lyrical, and all the “at’s” are brilliant.

    And thanks for the reminder to pull out and appreciate those old cards, especially the photographic ones (can’t bear to toss those).

    1. @jama-j: I have pictures of children who were two-year-olds who are now high school sophomores and I look and marvel. Their babyhood seems a very short time ago. I laugh at the number of photo cards with no parents — sometimes I’m like, “whose kids are those?!” And yet – I cannot bear to toss them. They remind me of happy times.

      1. Same here. I have photo cards of kids who are now PARENTS. I’m a pack rat when it comes to photos — usually only good pictures are used for these cards so everybody tends to look their best. 🙂

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