Poetry Studio

HOW TO WRITE A LIST POEM

Paul Janeczko defines a list poem as one "that is based on a list or catalog of some sort created by the poet" (p. 101). It is a free verse poem that describes or names attributes of a particular topic. There is more to it, however, than merely writing a list.

For a first list poem, it is a good idea to write one as a whole class (or large group). Brainstorm a short list of topics and arrive at a consensus on one. To get started, list anything on chart paper that students think of that is related to the topic. (I recommend chart paper so that you can keep all of the contributions that come from this idea session.) The list will probably be so diverse that, at first glance, arriving at a poem from it seems unlikely!

Then, begin working with the ideas. Reread the list. Ask students which ideas seem related and mark them with a colored marker. Repeat this process with other colors for different groups of ideas. Reread the ideas that are not marked. How well do they fit with the topic? As a group, decide which of these ideas will be crossed off the list. On a clean piece of chart paper, rewrite the grouped ideas. Read the new list aloud. Again, do all of them closely fit the topic? If not, delete those that don't. Usually, when the ideas are read and reread aloud, rhythms begin to appear. Keep those beats in mind in future rereadings. Look at the grouped ideas that remain. Is there an order that makes sense? Reread the list in the new order. Are there repeated sounds, words, or phrases that suggest a "refrain?" Sometimes poems repeat lines—are there lines the students wish to repeat? Continue to read the list aloud after revisions. Students will notice places where the rhythm breaks down. Brainstorm words that can be substituted that fit the beat.

Throughout the process of writing, encourage students to use very descriptive words. (I tell them that the words in poems paint pictures in their minds.) A mini-lesson on similes and metaphors (using poems as examples) might be helpful at some point during revision. A lesson on "less is more" might be also be appropriate, as some words are superfluous in a poem and interfere with the rhythm. All the way through this process of writing a rough draft, some new ideas may emerge and make perfect sense. Make a clean chart copy and read the poem (that's what it is by now) aloud again, listening very carefully to the rhythm. Revise the wording, as needed. Then, as a group, consider the line breaks. If students do not have much experience with this part of the process, use examples of poems to show how poets use line breaks to give a poem shape and emphasize words and/or phrases. Working with their draft, make decisions about the line breaks. Make a clean copy of the poem. Read it aloud and take one last look at it for additional revisions. Decide on a title. Type the poem and give everyone a copy.

Revisit the original list of topics and encourage students to think of new ones if they wish. In their notebooks, have them begin a list of ideas for their own poem.

Janeczko, P. (1999). How to write poetry. Scholastic.

Page last updated 03/27/16

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