Monday, October 08, 2018

Poetic Listing

By C.M. Mayo

As of this year, the second Monday of the month is dedicated to my writing workshop students and anyone else interested in creative writing.


A much-celebrated poem that amounts to a list-- a luminous list-- is Robert Pinsky's "The Shirt."


How to make a list into something poetic? It helps to be attentive to and creative with diction drops and spikes, repetition, scansion, and alliteration. I've already posted on diction and on repetition; in future months look for posts on scansion and alliteration.

Herewith, taken from a few favorite works, are some examples of poetic listing-- and to get the most of this, to really hear the poetry, I would suggest that you read these aloud:

"During the first days she kept busy thinking about changes in the house. She took the shades off the candlesticks, had new wall-paper put up, the staircase repainted, and seats made in the garden round the sundial; she even inquired how she could get a basin with a jet fountain and fishes." Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary 
"We eat our supper (cold biscuits, bacon, blackberry jam) and discuss tomorrow. Tomorrow the kind of work I like best begins: buying. Cherries and citron, ginger and vanilla and canned Hawaiian pineapple, rinds and raisins and walnuts and whiskey and oh, so much flour, butter so many eggs, spices, flavorings: why, we'll need a pony to pull the buggy home." Truman Capote, A Christmas Memory
"Tonight he wished for little things, the chance to take a hot bath, a reasonable suit of clothing, a gift to bring, at the very least some flowers, but then the room tilted slightly in the other direction and he opened up his hands and all of that fell away from him and he wanted nothing." Ann Patchett, Bel Canto
"The carriage was crammed: waves of silk, ribs of three crinolines, billowed, clashed, entwined almost to the heights of their heads; beneath was a tight press of stockings, girls silken slippers, the Princess's bronze-colored shoes, the Prince's patent-leather pumps; each suffered from the others feet and could find nowhere to put his own." Guiseppe di Lampedusa, The Leopard
And an example I also used in the post on repetition (money, money, money):
"Tancredi, he considered, had a great future; he would be the standard-bearer of a counter-attack which the nobility, under new trappings, could launch against the social State. To do this he lacked only one thing: money; this Tancredi did not have; none at all. And to get on in politics, now that a name counted less, would require a lot of money: money to buy votes, money to do the electors favors, money for a dazzling style of living..."  Guiseppe di Lampedusa, The Leopard

To take this further, as you are reading whatever you happen to be reading, note in your notebook whenever you find, in your view, any especially apt use of poetic listing. (More on reading as a writer here.)

P.S. More resources for writers on my workshop page.

> Your comments are always welcome. Write to me here.