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