A Lesson on List Poems with "Clearing"



In this lesson students will:

  • Identify the components of a list poem
  • Analyze how the items in the list build on each other to create meaning
  • Write a list poem



Poets are great collectors: of images, of moments, and of lovely words. A list poem is often an indulgence of these collections, allowing the writer to abandon traditional narrative and sentence structure to focus on image, musicality, and the power of suggestion. A list poem gains weight and meaning as the items on the list gather, build, and speak to one another.


Encountering the Poem

  1. Have two students read the poem aloud.
  2. Ask students to consider the items in the list. Are they of a similar sort or type? Which are tangible, intangible, actions, etc? Does the poem start mostly with one sort of item and end with another?
  3. Further consider the order of the items. If the speaker is in a room, where do they start? Where do they go? Where do they end?
  4. Ask the students where the poem "turns" for them. At what moment does an item on the list hold more gravity than the one before? Why?
  5. Does anything seem to be missing from this list or unspoken in the poem? How is absence made a presence in this piece? Ask students to imagine what this missing information might be and how its omission affects their experience of the poem.
  6. Ask students to consider the introduction of a "you" ("of your hand on the knob") in the last line. How does this person showing up at the end of the poem change or add to what's come before?


Writing Prompt

Write a list poem. A few places to start: List everything that is (or that you imagine is) on your bedside table. List everything in your bag. List everything you remember about someone you loved (or hated). Start the list poem without reservation. Write until you have fully listed all of the things. Then, go back and make deep cuts in revision, keeping only the most salient images. Try cutting the word count by 50% (you can always add words back in later).


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