Poets Online Archive

How many lists do you encounter in a typical day? Shopping lists, laundry lists, rules, catalogs, rosters, things to do, PDA lists, dates, appointments.

The list poem is actually very popular with elementary school teachers - so is haiku - and so the forms often get dismissed as "not serious."

What makes a list poem different from a list? Figurative language, a sense for word sound, rhythm, symbolism, arrangement on the page, a structure, items that surprise and turn the poem, a list that builds to a conclusion - the elements of any good poem.

Peter Elbow in Writing with Power suggests using a repeated line-starting phrase ("I Wish" or "Once" "next time", for example) for list poems.

"The Names", by Poet Laureate of the United States Billy Collins, was read during a special session of the U.S. Congress held in New York on September 6, 2002. The reading of the list of the dead from the 9/11/01 attack becomes the form for his poem, which certainly does more than list. Anyone who has seen their reflection in the black marble of the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington D.C. knows the effect of a list of names on the visitors there.


Bluejay flies
Screaming insults
At anyone within earshot

Cardinal flies
A startling flash of Christmas card red
Against the cold gray bones of winter trees

Crow flies
Happy mischief glinting
In midnight eyes

Eagle flies
Pinions gripping the wind
Like a lover’s
Strong fingers

Finch flies
In fits and starts
Flirting with the air

Goose flies
In open committee
Calling constantly for votes
To make sure everyone is in consensus

Heron flies
Dignified and alone
Long legs floating behind
Like streamers on an oriental kite

Mallard flies
Intent on housekeeping issues
Like finding a bush to sleep under
And a pond for the wife to dabble in

Owl flies
Catlike on whisper soft feathers
Eternally questioning the night

Vulture flies
Missing feathers
Look like the sky
Has bitten holes in his wings

Wren flies
But not much
And bitches about it

Hawk flies
Shrieking and wheeling free
Great spirit guardian

Raven flies
Worldly magic
Sparking along enigmatic feathers
While she hides a secret smile

I fly
My white wings spreading
Where no one can see

T. L. Massey


Welcome to the Country Airport,
also called the Loveless Hotel

Would you care for something to drink?
Ultramarine or Blue for their colors passing through us?
Fire aged by Rosicrucian in the basement?

Perhaps a light hors d’oeuvres on the funny side,
or otherwise something more substantial –
unholy sonnets or serious concerns?

Our specials today are Nice Fish
caught just above water, down the winter road,
Septuagenarian Stew
and Night Picnic which,
given sugar, given salt, will forever
spoil you for the idea of the ordinary.

Standard menu also includes
smorgasbord of Anthologies, fine array of
New and Selected or, if you like,
Selected and New, as well as 100 Selected
and the always popular Collected or Complete
in flavors from Angelou to Yeats.

Now that you are coming up for air
allow me to tempt you with the bare plum
of winter rain, picked
at the edge of the orchard country –
archaic smile guaranteed.
Will you end with coffee,
or do you hear a summons?

As to further questions of travel, you never know...
May I suggest the movie At the End of the World,
a stroll through the Impossible Toystore
or a sail on the Boat of Quiet Waters?
But beware the Black Riviera
with its bandsaw riots,
rattlesnake plantain, lords of misrule,
and the berrypicker who will bore you
with stories of what happened
when he went to the store for bread.

Violet Nesdoly


An abbreviation for
Absent, acceleration
Abandoned, adult
An answer, ace
Ampere or author.
Also a state or condition
Afire, on, in, perhaps at
Abed and in such a manner
Aloud, in the act of
gone-a-hunting, attingle and
Absurdly more, not, without
Asexual and of, often
Attached: kinda, lotta, a lot less
Abasement, yet unabashed in
Absolute ostentation
Aspiring, yet always
At ease as one
A beginning, a first
And something shaped like
the first letter of the
Alphabet: A

James M. Thompson


she found the gun quite by accident
i mean she knew it was somewhere
but where if you know what i mean
and it wasnt as if she were looking
for it no not that day anyway but
she found it
by accident tomorrow
she must go shopping



Plié, Jeté,
Pirouet, arabesque,
First, second, third, fourth, fifth.
Moving statues.
Ballet, the dance of my childhood.

Mountain pose, tree pose,
Extended triangle pose,
Warrior pose.
Living statues. Still statues.
(You get the idea)
Yoga, my practice today.

Ellen Kaplan


Nobody brings me a cup of tea in bed.
Nobody whistles walking up and down the stairs.
Nobody listens to show tunes in the kitchen or wanders
Home Depot for fun.
Nobody leaves dirty dishes on the counter
or carries a tire pressure gauge.
Nobody finds my misplaced keys.
Nobody looks up words in dictionaries
or prefers calculators with reverse polish notation
or memorizes paint colors
or measures in metric.
Nobody uses power tools, fills the basement with sawdust,
knows that red wine smells like freshly cut oak.
Nobody catches the train at Watchung
or watches birds at Cape May.
Nobody wakes me up in the morning.
Nobody takes me dancing,

Jessica de Koninck

Faded Heroes

After Aviator Lindbergh heroes were many
less grand but all mine, worshipped daily.
Tops for years, movie cowboy Ken Maynard
of white hat and good deeds.
Then a talkative Bob Steele, tough on outlaws
gentle with the pretty girls.
Any railroader in overalls and cap
swaggering with oil can or signal lantern.
Runner-up, a street car conductor
bright brass buttons on a black uniform.
Every teacher except the one in math
who scared the figurative hell out of me.
Three ancient Civil War boy-soldiers
sharing with me dim uncertain memories.
All airplane pilots flying wood and cloth crates
while proving aviation's certain future.
Ditto, the foolish guys driving high speed
bucket-of-bolts, death trap race cars.
Mister Hicks, my Sunday school teacher
imparting lasting morality in outdoor classes.
Bobby Dodd, Georgia Tech's winning coach
of destiny's team as the only game in town.
A nameless old-time barber who never
pushed my head this way and that cutting my hair.
Our postman, for bringing me the world beyond
with time to talk about airplanes.
The paralyzed polio victim neighbor
patient listener for older kids of working parents.
These faded heroes of younger times live on
busily monitoring my dwindling days.

F. William Broome


Well, this is it - the eve of Cardigan.
My daughter and her eighth grade class
have trained for weeks to climb the mountain,
set up camp and dig latrines, measure trees
and test the flow of streams, count
the temperature from cricket's chirps, bank a fire,
record night sounds, identify the stars.
My neighbor calls, solicitous,
"And you, Mom, are you ready?"

Of course I'm ready, I've just cinched
the last strap across the bulging pockets
of this internal frame pack we bought
in August, sprayed the last protective coat
on Goretex hiking boots, shelled out dearly
for the trekking socks, the Nalgene
water bottles and dinner plate, ounce
for marine blue ounce, stronger than steel.
She's bulletproof.

Sucking air from ziplock plastic bags,
I've shrink-wrapped microfiber shirts,
vacuum-packed a row of toilet paper rolls.
I'm used to squeezing every last gasp
of empty space from the substance of my days.
Why just today, I've crammed
two soccer games, birthday party, shish kabobs
and Family Music Night into our day of rest.
No problem.

Poncho. Trail mix. First aid kit. A final
check around her room, just a question remains:
what will I do tomorrow,
with the space she leaves behind?

Julia Rizzo



2015 poetsonline.org | | | freecounterstat