What is a list poem?

A list poem is just that. A list of things. List poems first appeared thousands of years ago. The bible has list poems. Think of the family genealogy lists. Homer’s Iliad also has list poems in its lists of Trojan War heroes.

Lists are part of life. It has been used throughout the centuries to make an inventory of things.

A list poem can be a list of either people, places, things you do, items, even ideas you may have. It can rhyme, but doesn’t have to. Repetition is often a tool used in a list poem.

One thing a list poem is not is a random list. Most list poems are thought out and not just casual items.

The last item in a list poem usually has meaning – by that I mean it is often an important item.
With a list poem you are trying to get the reader to look and think about what is in your list.
Like a story there is a beginning and there is an end.
Keep consistency with the style and remember to create a parrallel structure with your words.

The following is an excerpt from Christopher Smart’s poem Jubilate Agno. Written 250 years ago it’s a great example of a list poem.

From “Jubilate Agno”

For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry.
For he is the servant of the Living God, duly and daily serving him.
For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his way.
For is this done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness.
For then he leaps up to catch the musk, which is the blessing of God upon
**his prayer.
For he rolls upon prank to work it in.
For having done duty and received blessing he begins to consider himself.
For this he performs in ten degrees.
For first he looks upon his forepaws to see if they are clean.
For secondly he kicks up behind to clear away there.
For thirdly he works it upon stretch with the forepaws extended.
For fourthly he sharpens his paws by wood.
For fifthly he washes himself.
For sixthly he rolls upon wash.
For seventhly he fleas himself, that he may not be interrupted upon the beat.
For eighthly he rubs himself against a post.
For ninthly he looks up for his instructions.
For tenthly he goes in quest of food.
For having considered God and himself he will consider his neighbor.
For if he meets another cat he will kiss her in kindness.
For when he takes his prey he plays with it to give it a chance.
For one mouse in seven escapes by his dallying.
For when his day’s work is done his business more properly begins.
For he keeps the Lord’s watch in the night against the adversary.
For he counteracts the powers of darkness by his electrical skin and glaring eyes.
For he counteracts the Devil, who is death, by brisking about the life.
For in his morning orisons he loves the sun and the sun loves him.
For he is of the tribe of Tiger.
For the Cherub Cat is a term of the Angel Tiger.
For he has the subtlety and hissing of a serpent, which in goodness
**he suppresses.
For he will not do destruction if he is well-fed, neither will he spit
**without provocation.
For he purrs in thankfulness when God tells him he’s a good Cat.
For he is an instrument for the children to learn benevolence upon.
For every house is incomplete without him, and a blessing is lacking in the spirit.
For the Lord commanded Moses concerning the cats at the departure of
**the Children of Israel from Egypt.
For every family had one cat at least in the bag.
For the English Cats are the best in Europe.
For he is the cleanest in the use of his forepaws of any quadruped.
For the dexterity of his defense is an instance of the love of God
**to him exceedingly.
For he is the quickest to his mark of any creature.
For he is tenacious of his point.
For he is a mixture of gravity and waggery.
For he knows that God is his Saviour.
For there is nothing sweeter than his peace when at rest.
For there is nothing brisker than his life when in motion.
For he is of the Lord’s poor, and so indeed is he called by benevolence
**perpetually—Poor Jeoffry! poor Jeoffry! the rat has bit thy throat.
For I bless the name of the Lord Jesus that Jeoffry is better.
For the divine spirit comes about his body to sustain it in complete cat.
For his tongue is exceeding pure so that it has in purity what it wants in music.
For he is docile and can learn certain things.
For he can sit up with gravity, which is patience upon approbation.
For he can fetch and carry, which is patience in employment.
For he can jump over a stick, which is patience upon proof positive.
For he can spraggle upon waggle at the word of command.
For he can jump from an eminence into his master’s bosom.
For he can catch the cork and toss it again.
For he is hated by the hypocrite and miser.
For the former is afraid of detection.
For the latter refuses the charge.
For he camels his back to bear the first notion of business.
For he is good to think on, if a man would express himself neatly.
For he made a great figure in Egypt for his signal services.
For he killed the Icneumon rat, very pernicious by land.
For his ears are so acute that they sting again.
For from this proceeds the passing quickness of his attention.
For by stroking of him I have found out electricity.
For I perceived God’s light about him both wax and fire.
For the electrical fire is the spiritual substance which God sends from heaven
**to sustain the bodies both of man and beast.
For God has blessed him in the variety of his movements.
For, though he cannot fly, he is an excellent clamberer.
For his motions upon the face of the earth are more than any other quadruped.
For he can tread to all the measures upon the music.
For he can swim for life.
For he can creep.

Now – go write your own !!

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10 thoughts on “What is a list poem?”

  1. I enjoy list poems, and have written and published a couple. They are something I often teach to beginners, too, as I think having a form to work with when starting out can be very helpful.

    You can read one of mine here (you have to scroll down to page four to read, under ‘the write stuff’ heading, and then ‘Three poems by Kirsten Cliff’, “summer preeening” is the list poem) – http://www.waiariki.ac.nz/documents/waiariki_today/Waiariki_Today_version6.pdf

    I hadn’t seen this one by Jubilate Agno – thanks for sharing! I hope to read one of yours soon 🙂

    Cheers,
    Kirsten
    http://kirstencliffwrites.blogspot.com/

    Like

    1. You should read the whole poem – not just the section I printed out – it is amazing where Christopher Smart takes it. He is actually a fascinating character – I am thinking of doing some more research on him and his other poetry, and doing a few posts about him.
      🙂

      Like

      1. I just checked out your poems – they are really good Kirsten !!
        Do you have them on your website? i would love to link to them.
        If not would you allow me to put them up here with a link to your website – they need to be read by LOTS of people. 🙂

        Like

  2. I’ve never had the patience to go all the way to the end with Christopher Smart —
    But I’ve always loved the beginning, and as far in as I’ve got.
    Thanks for showing it to me in a clearer light!

    Like

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