Barbara Drake, professor at Michigan State University and author of numerous books on the craft of poetry, suggests that making lists and cataloguing can help the writer generate and organize material for a poem. After all, who does not make lists? The nouns or images in a list can often unwittingly yield connections, subtle and previously unnoticed, when rearranged and re-established in new order for a new purpose. She reprints Anselm Hollo's poem "Good Stuff Cookies" in her 1983 text Writing Poetry as an example.
Good Stuff Cookies
2 gods 2 cups sifted all purpose iridescence
2/3 cup hidden psychic reality 2 tsps. good stuff
2 tsps. real world 1/2 tsp pomp and pleasure
3/4 cup sleep
Beat gods' hidden psychic reality, real world and sleep together. Sift together iridiscence, good stuff and pomp & pleasure. Add to real world mixture.
Drop by teaspoon 2 inches apart on cookie sheet. Press cookies flat with bottom of glass dipped in sleep. Bake at 400 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes. 2 dozen cookies. Good stuff!
Now you give it a try. Do one of the lists below and then using your list as a starting point, incorporate as many items as you can into a poem, letting your list suggest a direction and meaning for the poem.
Past lists: list your earliest memories; list foods your mother used to make; objects from bedrooms you remember; friends you've lost contact with; childhood teachers; all the names you can remember from 3rd grade; activities at camp you participated in(or detested); all the pets you ever owned; favorite toys you got for Christmas/birthdays.
Object Lists: Write the contents of your favorite rooms in your house; make a list of object in your purse, your pockets, your medicine cabinets, your freezer; list all the objects that can ever remember having lost in your life.
Word Lists: Collect words that you like for some reason (avoid overuse of abstract terms); jot them from overheard conversations, TV shows, repreated phrases a friend uses or by browsing a dictionary or thesaurus; make a list of words or phrases whose meanings have changed over the years or whose meanings have become lost or purposeless.
Complete and send:
: 1. The list you made to complete the List Poem
2. The finished List Poem (with title)
Half a bottle of Aspirin
Toothpaste, almost gone, no cap
Floss, never ...
The expert examines a professor listing at Michigan State University.