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by Louise Robertson

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Ten is a good number for counting poems (you know them – 10 reasons your ice cream cone melted, 10 girlfriends who done me wrong, etc.) And counting poems are all, essentially, list poems.

List poems list. (How’s that for quickie directions.) Usually there is a theme, so even a random list (like titles of books in a library) can be evocative. If you do it right, you can talk about something specific. They very, very often use a beginning set of words to keep the list going. But if there is some kind of narrative arc, you can really strike gold. Here’s a poem from slam poet Big Poppa E, called “Receipt” that pulls everyone along to outrageous conclusion.

Some have suggested this is an easy form to write, that all you have to do is write down the name of a place (like New Orleans or the garage) and then list items in that location (trailer, red spray paint, etc). But the choices you make as an author are as critical or more critical than when using other forms ( (see how the contents of New Orleans would sound really different if you list them as contents of a garage). And you could do worse than picking a location and using the contents of the location to create an environment for the audience.

I tell you who was good at list poems, Shel Silverstein. Here’s one of his:

Sick
by 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?
My leg is cut–my eyes are blue–
It might be instamatic flu.
I cough and sneeze and gasp and choke,
I’m sure that my left leg is broke–
My hip hurts when I move my chin,
My belly button’s caving in,
My back is wrenched, my ankle’s sprained,
My ‘pendix pains each time it rains.
My nose is cold, my toes are numb.
I have a sliver in my thumb.
My neck is stiff, my voice is weak,
I hardly whisper when I speak.
My tongue is filling up my mouth,
I think my hair is falling out.
My elbow’s bent, my spine ain’t straight,
My temperature is one-o-eight.
My brain is shrunk, I cannot hear,
There is a hole inside my ear.
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!”

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