Tag Archives: Walt Whitman

Summertime and the Living is Tuesday Tryouts

8:47 a.m. — Walnut Creek

Finally. I am in California, with my mother, where I will spend the next month. Routine. Lovely. Now, where are we in the Summer Tryouts? Ah, the list poem. I love list poems. There is no wrong way to do one and lists allow experimentation, play, fun.

You can go back to the list you made of summer associations and see if there is a list poem within it.

You can check out Walt Whitman, the king of listmakers.

You can try a riddle ala Sylvia Plath. Those who don’t know this poem, every line is a metaphor, as is the whole poem. Everything adds up.


I’m a riddle in nine syllables,
An elephant, a ponderous house,
A melon strolling on two tendrils.
O red fruit, ivory, fine timbers!
This loaf’s big with its yeasty rising.
Money’s new-minted in this fat purse.
I’m a means, a stage, a cow in calf.
I’ve eaten a bag of green apples,
Boarded the train there’s no getting off.

You can try your hand at a BLAZON, for no other reason than it’s a cool name for a form. Here’s an excerpt from a blazon, a poem that itemises the qualities of something or someone beloved:

Free Union
a 1931 poem by Andre Breton

My wife whose hair is a brush fire
Whose thoughts are summer lightning
Whose waist is an hourglass
Whose waist is the waist of an otter caught in the teeth of a tiger
Whose mouth is a bright cockade with the fragrance of a star of the first magnitude
Whose teeth leave prints like the tracks of white mice over snow
Whose tongue is made out of amber and polished glass
Whose tongue is a stabbed wafer
The tongue of a doll with eyes that open and shut
Whose tongue is an incredible stone
My wife whose eyelashes are strokes in the handwriting of a child
Whose eyebrows are nests of swallows
My wife whose temples are the slate of greenhouse roofs
With steam on the windows
My wife whose shoulders are champagne
Are fountains that curl from the heads of dolphins over the ice
My wife whose wrists are matches
Whose fingers are raffles holding the ace of hearts
Whose fingers are fresh cut hay

If you wish to read the entire poem, you can find it here. Note that Breton starts at the top and is working his way down the form of his wife. That is one of the conventions of a blazon.

A list poem may be short, as in ‘The Grocer’s Children’ by Herbert Scott

The grocer’s children
eat day-old bread
moldy cakes and cheese,
soft black bananas
on stale shredded wheat,
weeviled rice, their plates
heaped high with wilted
greens, bruised fruit
surprise treats
from unlabeled cans,
tainted meat.
The grocer’s children
never go hungry.

A site on wikispaces offers a good working definition of a list poem, to go with ‘The Grocer’s Children’: ‘List poems are made up of common (but not plain) items, sensory details, metaphor, and uncommon observations or comments. Basically, the poem is a list of images, but at the end the poet sort of answers the “So what?” question we are begging to ask.’

Go forth. Make lists. Play. Post. I am looking forward to reading your list poems. I will also [plan to] finish catching up on last week’s poems as soon as mom and I have groceries. She knew I was coming in on the 2nd. She thought the 2nd was today.

Happy writing everyone.



Posted by on 03/07/2012 in exercises, poetry, writing


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Thursday Thoughts: Poetic Inversion and the Yoda Effect

9:16 a.m. — San Antonio

A couple of weeks ago I asked if any of you, dear readers, had a topic you wished me to discuss. Viv, of Vivinfrance’s Blog, whom many of you know, had an immediate response: ‘Could you give us your view on poetic inversions – which I was taught to shun, but which sometimes force themselves into a poem.’

This could be a short post. My view: If the poem requires it, do it.

But, let’s look at what a poetic inversion is and why it was, and is, shunned by teachers. In the English language, normal sentence syntax [the order of words in a sentence] is subject, verb, object: I kicked the ball.

But, there are five other possibilities. Glance back at the sentence and see if you can figure them out before reading my list.

I the ball kicked.
Kicked the ball I.
Kicked I the ball.
The ball I kicked.
The ball kicked I.

What happens to each sentence when I shift the order of the words? Two major things: The emphasis shifts and so does the rhythm. Say each one aloud, if your internal ear is not hearing the difference enough. What are teachers so afraid of? With young, or new, writers, teachers want them to develop their internal ear before they take on something that can ruin a poem if a writer cannot hear its effect. That would be what I am calling the Yoda effect: Afraid of the force not, am I.

But, like many of the things I have said to beware of in past Thursday Thoughts, it’s more a case of be aware. Know that you [or the poem] are creating an inversion and the effect of that inversion on what you are writing. If it sounds cheesy to you, probably it will sound the same to a reader. You may choose, for the poem, to do it anyway, but you are doing so with knowledge and deliberation.

Some poets who have used poetic inversion: Shakespeare, often; Milton; Emily Dickinson; Walt Whitman; and the most known for it, e. e. cummings. Go look at some of cummings’ poetry. The poetic inversion is a major device of his.

Why consider using the inversion yourself? For the reasons listed above: you want the emphasis, or focus, placed on a word; or you need to keep a poetic rhythm going; or you want to break a poetic rhythm.

I had such fun writing this post, so at any time, because I will forget to ask, give me a topic you want me to write about and I shall look into it, and if I am able, I shall write about it. Thank you for this one, Viv.

I want to give a shout out to all the people who responded to this Tuesday’s Tryouts to write a poem on something lost. If you haven’t had a chance to read their poems, stop by when you can. If you haven’t posted a poem, it’s never too late. Remember that if you have questions about anything I write, ask. If you think someone will enjoy this, click buttons!

I shall see you tomorrow for the Friday roundup; Tuesday for a second open prompt [whoo hoo!]; and next Thursday for …wow! I don’t know. Can you tell I am on vacation? I usually know two or three topics in advance. I’ll let you know.

Happy writing, everyone.


Posted by on 23/06/2011 in poetry, writing


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