50+ list poems for writing inspiration

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Click here to jump straight to the list of more than 50 contemporary list poems.

My love affair with list poems is long and uninterrupted. I really, really love them. Really. I love reading list poems. I love writing them. And when it comes to getting poem drafts started quickly (a big help when doing poem-a-day challenges), they’re lifesavers.

It’s lots of fun to see how other poets use lists in their poems, and so I’ve been gathering list poem examples in an email folder for my own inspiration. Now, I’ve decided to bring them over here to the blog where it’s prettier — and also easier to reference/share.

what is a list poem?

A list poem is exactly what it sounds like: a poem that lists things, kind of like an inventory. Think Howl by Allen Ginsberg. Think Mille et un sentiments by Denise Duhamel. Think Joe Brainard’s I Remember.* In case you’re not familiar with these works, here are short excerpts:

  • from Howl: “I saw the best minds of my generation… / who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high… / who bared their brains to Heaven under the El… / who passed through universities with radiant cool eyes hallucinating Arkansas… / who were expelled from the academies for crazy…”
  • from Mille et un sentiments: “170. I feel like it’s all too much, all these commitments… / 171. I feel like even the laundry is too much sometimes… / 174. I feel as though he’ll never forgive me… / 175. I feel as though I shouldn’t be forgiven… / 416. I feel open to bribing the muse… / 417. I feel open to begging… / 418. I feel open to melodrama and understatement.”
  • from I Remember: “I remember that woman who was always opening refrigerators… / I remember a plate that hung on the wall above the TV set that said, ‘God Bless Our Mortgaged Home’… / I remember the shadows of feet under the cracks of doors. And closeups of doorknobs turning… / I remember prophylactic machines in gas station bathrooms.”

Items in list poems can be different from one another — this, then that, then another thing — or they can use repetition for a little more structure (and a different kind of effect). A common type of repetition used in list poems is anaphora, which is use of the same words at the beginning of a phrase or line.

Here are some ways others have described list poems:

  • Robert Lee Brewer (Writer’s Digest) says, “A list poem (also known as a catalog poem) is a poem that lists things, whether names, places, actions, thoughts, images, etc.”
  • Dr. Patricia Stohr-Hunt (The Miss Rumphius Effect) says, “A list poem is a carefully crafted list, catalog, or inventory of things.”
  • The State Library of New South Wales gets more specific in its definition: “The poem is created by a list of images or adjectives that build up to describe its subject. They are very deliberately organised and are not simply random lists of images. The last line of a list poem is usually strong, and is an important element of the poem as list poems often conclude with a startling or surprising image.”
  • And the synopsis for Read, Recite, and Write List Poems by Joann Early Macken reminds us of these list poem qualities: “List poetry includes a number of forms that rely on parallel structure, repetition and line breaks.”

For me, the two most important elements of the list poem are their titles and the ways in which poets take, ahem, poetic license with the repetition. Specifically,

  • One of the hardest working elements of list poems are their titles, which perform the key task of establishing the lists’ context, setting the tone and grabbing the reader’s interest.
  • I pay closest attention to ways in which list poems sustain, interrupt and transform their repetitive elements.

You’ll find a number of interesting approaches to both titles and repetition in the collection of contemporary list poem examples below. For my purposes here, I’m using “contemporary” to mean those published in the last few years, no earlier than 2018. I’ve organized the list alphabetically by the poet’s last name, and each gives you a brand new reason to fall in love with the list poem.

May you find lots of inspiration for writing some list poems of your own!

more than 50 list poem examples

  1. I Executive Order” by Alyssa Arns
  2. Because” by Ellen Bass
  3. Further Exercises” by Susan Briante (2nd poem on the page)
  4. Search History Sad” by Caylin Capra-Thomas
  5. Doll Procession” by Barbara Daniels
  6. Light Home” by Kwame Davis
  7. I Pump Milk Like a Boss” by Kendra DeColo
  8. Love” by Alex Dimitrov
  9. 7 Dreams of Life and Death” by Sheila Dong
  10. Frantic Efforts to Avoid Abandonment, Real or Imagined” by Jameson Fitzpatrick
  11. When You Tell Me the Next Emperor Will Be Kinder, I Remember” by Malcolm Friend
  12. Lavender” by Joanna Fuhrman
  13. You Are Who I Love” by Aracelis Girmay
  14. Let’s Say I Took the Amtrak, Heading” by Kathleen Hellen
  15. Take Me in Your Tender Arms, Roll Me in the Dirt” by Gabrielle Grace Hogan
  16. String Theory” by Sonya Huber
  17. Let Me Begin Again” by Major Jackson
  18. Against Mastery” by Brionne Janae
  19. National Anthem” by Christopher Kempf
  20. Nothing Wants to Suffer” by Danusha LamĂ©ris
  21. Everything Is a Prayer to Something” by Lance Larsen
  22. Prompts” by Courtney LeBlanc
  23. 32 Failed Horror Movies for Poets” by Hailey Leithauser
  24. The End of Poetry” by Ada Limon
  25. Places with Terrible Wi-Fi” by J. Estanislao Lopez
  26. Why I Miss My Father” by Amy Lyons
  27. Living Will” by Tanis MacDonald
  28. Abcedarian for the Man Who Claimed Birth Control Goes Against Nature” by Grace Macnair
  29. Fog” by Ruth Madievsky
  30. Ritual for Removing ‘Opioid-Seeking’ From Your File” by Nisa Malli
  31. What to Expect” by Kate Manning
  32. What My Father Did Not Have to Say” by Peter Markus
  33. Not-Yet-Official Girl Scout Badges” by Chloe Martinez
  34. Let’s Get Acquainted” by Adrian Matejka
  35. Reasons to Plant Raspberries” by James McKean
  36. Ten Things I Learned From Stanley Plumly” by Fleming Meeks
  37. Poems I Probably Won’t Write About My Stepfather” by Jennifer Stewart Miller
  38. Begin Again” by January G. O’Neil
  39. The Daughters” by Patricia Patterson
  40. Future Food” by Robin LeMer Rahija
  41. Brown Girl Creed” by Barbara Jane Reyes
  42. Nothing You Need” by John Ronan
  43. Respair” by Craig van Rooyen
  44. Diorama (the uses of the girl and the location of the 45 buildings” by Catie Rosemurgy
  45. States & Capitals” by Chris Santiago
  46. Letter Found on the Body” by Corinna McClanahan Schroeder
  47. I have slept in many places, for years on mattresses that entered” by Diane Seuss
  48. We Don’t Die” by Darius Simpson
  49. Soulwork” by Tracy K. Smith
  50. The Rough Beast Receives an Invitation From America” by Alexandra Teague
  51. God Is God and the Universe Is the Universe” by Leah Umansky
  52. 23 Reasons Why Mexicanos Can Still Be Found in a Walmart” by Alessandra Narvaez Varela
  53. “When My Daughter Tells Me I Was Never Punk” by Jessica Walsh (available here, click through to page 4 & scroll down)
  54. All the Places I Was” by Sam Herschel Wein

I’m happy to continue adding to the collection of list poem examples. Got a recent fave that I’ve missed? Let me know!


*Brainard’s I Remember has become a popular writing prompt, as captured here by The University of Arizona Poetry Center.

2 comments

  1. This is not only an amazing list, it’s an amazing blog. I’m so impressed that I’m kind of freaking out, but in a good way.

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