What is a List Poem?

An examination of the history, form and use of list poetry, a widely-found form of poetry.

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List poetry refers to poems written as lists. This can be in full sentences or as single words.

History

List poetry, sometimes known as catalogue verse, isn’t really a form as such but it is widely-used. It’s hard to know when the first list was used as a poem, and indeed, many lists are repurposed into poems at a later date.

For example, the Bible contains various forms of poetry, arguably including extensive lists. Homer’s Iliad is an example of a partial list poem as it reels through lists of Trojan warriors.

Modern poets such as Roger McGough and John Hegley have used lists to great effect, often hiding layers of subtext between the items on the list.

Form

A list poem is simply a list. This could be a list of single words, or it could be a list of sentences.

These lists do not necessarily need rhythm or rhyme.

What separates a list poem from a list, I would offer, is subtext. It’s not enough for things to just be listed. They must have a relation to each other, tell a story or offer commentary.

Use

A list can be a highly accessible way of introducing poetry to an audience, but the poet should remain considerate of the list’s purpose.

In the hands of a master poet, the list poem can be a surprisingly insightful form, though its true strength lies in how ordinary it is. It is simple to grasp the notion of a list, and it is easy to write and therefore also a good form to practice if you’re starting out in writing poetry. List poetry shows people they can write, and that poetry doesn’t have to be anything super-elite or overwrought, but it can also demonstrate the scope that is possible, even within the simplest writing. List poetry is a perfect gateway into poetry. There are no rhymes nor meter to adhere to. List poetry is simply a list.

Connor Sansby is a Margate-based writer, editor, poet and publisher through his super-indie Whisky & Beards publishing label.

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