Welcome to Poetry: Try a List or Catalog!
I have often heard that poetry can be convoluted and confusing – metaphors abound, formatting is random, and meanings are hidden. However, I fondly remember my first experiences with poetry in elementary school, especially in second grade. My teacher, Tr. Bonnie, introduced my class to a very accessible form of poetry – list or catalog poetry. At the time, I did not know there was a name for it. But her assignment to practice this form was fairly simple:
1. Choose any color – it would serve as the title of the poem
2. Think of things related to that color and write them down in a list
And that was all there was to it! I picked the color blue and wrote the following:
Ocean water, slippery ice,
A beautiful day’s sky, the
Deep blue color of a night’s
Sky, precious saffires, a
Babie’s blue eyes, a 1st place
Ribbon, delicious blueberries,
And everlasting friendships.
Ignoring the obvious spelling errors and the disagreement seven-year-old Rachel had with Tr. Bonnie over whether the color blue represented friendship, the poem is a simple example of list poetry. A list poem doesn’t have to be about a color, but perhaps a place, a memory, a person.
Poemanalysis.com describes a catalog poem as “a collection of people, objects, ideas, and other elements in list form within poetry or prose. A writer can make use of this literary device when they want to list out multiple things for a single purpose. As they appear together, they should feel unified, and a reader should be able to understand why they’ve all been written together in the same place. It’s possible to create a catalog in free verse poetry or in a rhymed poem.”
The structure is simple:
I love how Thanet Writers describes the simplicity and accessibility of this form of poetry:
“It is simple to grasp the notion of a list, and it is easy to write and therefore also a good form to practice if you’re starting out in writing poetry. List poetry shows people they can write, and that poetry doesn’t have to be anything super-elite or overwrought, but it can also demonstrate the scope that is possible, even within the simplest writing. List poetry is a perfect gateway into poetry. There are no rhymes nor meter to adhere to. List poetry is simply a list.”
When I first began to write about list or catalog poetry, it was my intention to describe why I disliked the form. However, the more I read about it and the more I read actual examples beyond my “Blue” poem, the more I understood the simplicity, value, and appeal of list or catalog poetry. I do hope in the coming year, I’ll continue to create my own examples of list or catalog poetry. Perhaps you can try too!
Here are some real examples of list or catalog poetry:
Home Sweet Home – Serenity Nightingale
Picturesque and simple with sweet little windows,
Tidy guestrooms beside stylish bedrooms,
A kitchen straight out of a home catalog,
All contain inside plastic walls.
Blush, copper, teal walls leading to a bathroom,
Cobalt blue hibiscus designs on matching tea sets,
Coordinating furniture in every room.
Delicate and perfect from the roof to the garden.
Impeccable ideal home, a tangible version of home.
A grounded fantasy that profoundly consumes all,
Yearning to live in a dollhouse.
Sick – Shel Silverstein
"I cannot go to school today," Said little Peggy Ann McKay. "I have the measles and the mumps, A gash, a rash and purple bumps. My mouth is wet, my throat is dry, I'm going blind in my right eye. My tonsils are as big as rocks, I've counted sixteen chicken pox And there's one more—that's seventeen, And don't you think my face looks green?
[…] I have a hangnail, and my heart is—what? What's that? What's that you say? You say today is. . .Saturday? G'bye, I'm going out to play!"
Bleezer's Ice Cream – Jack Prelutsky
I am Ebenezer Bleezer, I run BLEEZER'S ICE CREAM STORE, there are flavors in my freezer you have never seen before, twenty-eight divine creations too delicious to resist, why not do yourself a favor, try the flavors on my list:
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I am Ebenezer Bleezer, I run BLEEZER'S ICE CREAM STORE, taste a flavor from my freezer, you will surely ask for more.