List Poetry Form: Listen to Life’s Playlist

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Here’s what the List poetry form is:

List poems (or catalog poems) are poems that incorporate a list directly into the fabric of the poem, usually as a framing tool.

A list poem can be based on a list of actions, experiences, items, people, etc.

The whole poem can be a list or there can be one prominent list featured in the body of the poem.

So if you want to learn all about the List poetry type, then you’ve come to the right place.

Let’s jump right in!

List Poem Type (Simply Explained & Examples)

Forms of Poetry: List Poems

woman holding a blank notebook and pencil at coffee shop.

List poems, also known as catalog poems, are one of the simplest forms of poetry and are such a popular project for children, but that doesn’t mean they have no literary value.

In fact, Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” can be categorized as a list poem.

There are multiple ways to format a list poem, but the general idea is that it is functionally both a list and a poem.

A poem can be entirely a list poem, or it can just feature a list prominently somewhere within the poem.

This style of poetry hasn’t been formally codified, so you’re free to experiment with how best to implement lists in poetry.

Basic Properties of a List Poem

Rhyme StructureOptional
OriginUnknown; at least as old as Ancient Greece
PopularityRelatively uncommon in publications but well-known; often treated as a children’s exercise

How Are List Poems Structured?

Beautiful young brunette girl sitting, writing on staircase

List poems are generally free to do as they please with the structure, for the most part.

There are no set requirements for length, meter, rhyme scheme, etc.

Even the techniques that you use in the poem are up to your own discretion.

They tend to not be incredibly short since they need enough space for the list to have some sort of impact, but they don’t necessarily need to be longer than a single verse.

Some list forms are quite long, but it’s important that the poet thinks of the target audience when choosing a length.

The central focus, the list, can be signified in various ways.

It could simply be a list grammatically, with commas to separate the entries, or you could choose to number out the entries to make the list a more obvious focal point of the poem.

Examples of a List Poem

A beautiful redhead in a blue dress enjoy a walk in the forest at sunrise.

Witchy Sundae

A dash of fish blood for the cold,
a splash of cemetery mud, fresh-picked,
locks of maiden hair, enough to hold,
and a single cocoon, still on the stick.

Three acorns sourced from squirrels,
about a half a cup of ginger tea,
then stir it ‘til the colors swirl,
all to make a man love me.

The above poem is a simple take on the list poem, only using grammar to signify the entries on the list.

At only eight lines, this poem comes in rather short, but it proves to be space enough to describe a simple potion.

The poem doesn’t necessarily need to just be a list of items, though. Let’s look at a different example.

Eight Times

Once, you said you loved me
and I did believe you then.
Twice, you looked away
but I thought you would stay.
Thrice, I called your name,
to hear nothing in return.
Four times, I asked for you,
thinking your love was true.
Five times, I was lied to
and told you were not there.
Six times, I forgave your friends
but now this is where it ends.
Seven times, you slept with him
and that I shall not forgive.
Eight times, I’ll stab his heart
to rip you traitorous fools apart.

Attractive young woman in long dress and hat walking by the sea.

In this example, the poem lists actions instead of nouns.

This can be used to carry a narrative without breaking out of the list. Of course, list poems don’t have to be so literal and can space out the entries quite a bit more.

Whereas this poem features two lines per entry, you could devote entire verses to individual pieces of a list.

Also note the use of numbers in the poem, punctuated with commas to mark their significance to the structure.

While list poems do not always incorporate numbers in their lists, it can be an interesting way to draw attention to the unique build of the poem.

Tips for Writing List Poems

Woman in a white shirt is taking notes in a coffee shop

First, you’ll need something that goes well in a list.

This might be instructions for how to live a good life, a list of items that your speaker has positive memories of, a list of experiences with a deceased family member, etc.

The length of the entries will usually come naturally, but you should make it a point to think about whether the poem can be strengthened by spacing them out more or by cutting them down as short as possible.

As an example, consider the following list:

A bottle
A hairbrush
A housekey

On its own, the list is only just that, a list. It becomes a poem when we extend it out to be meaningful in some way.

The advantage of a list poem is that it inherently lends itself to imagery, but the disadvantage is that you can lose sight of a poem’s purpose if you only think of it as writing a list.

Here’s an extended version of that same list:

A bottle I greedily emptied last night
A hairbrush you used to use
A housekey that belonged to you

By just adding a few words, we’ve established the most basic roots of a narrative.

The list itself is only a framework through which you will set up the rest of the poem, so don’t think of the list as a goal.

Your list should be a technique that adds to the poem by giving it a concrete, easy-to-follow structure that leads your reader efficiently from point to point.

Of course, list poems don’t necessarily need to have any ambition at all. Whether you try to remaster the form and make it into your own magnum opus or simply treat a list poem as a fun weekend exercise for the family, the important thing is that you enjoy yourself.

Poet’s Note


It’s hard to discuss the list poem as a form since it’s really more like a technique that’s used as a sort of graphic organizer.

So I’m not going to pretend this is a comprehensive guide to all the different ways to incorporate lists in poetry.

This is just a brief insight into how you can take a list and develop it into a poem, but it’s ultimately up to you to decide where you’ll go from here.

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