VVP: Art 434 & Engl. 410

Website for Vision Voice and Practice: An Interdisciplinary Course in Art and Creative Writing

Friday, March 6, 2009

Poetry of Making Lists

We talked in class briefly about what I heard the poet Dean Young call "the intrinsic poetry of lists." Marianne Moore often traffics in lists. "The Steeple-Jack," for example, takes a detour from the describing the sea-side town just to revel in list-making, and as we read Frank O'Hara's work in the coming weeks, you'll see the pleasure he takes in listing the activities of an afternoon, especially in what he calls his "I-do-this-I-do-that" poems. Then there's this song, a favorite of my kids, which I had mentioned in class:

It's the excess of lists that often charms. They go on longer than we might expect, and somehow, when they threaten to bore, they can re-enchant us by their momentum and conviction, like a fan whose praise of a singer or movie passes through obsession and into the sublime. (I hope I'm not overstating things...) I've been reading George Herbert's The Temple lately, and the following poem, a list poem, has been something I find myself returning to in the past few weeks for nourishment. Each quality he mentions suggests to him another quality, and another. And another.

Prayer (I)

Prayer the Churches banquet, Angels age,
Gods breath in man returning to his birth,
The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,
The Christian plummet sounding heav'n and earth;

Engine against th' Almightie, sinners towre,
Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear,
The six-daies world-transposing in an houre,
A kinde of tune, which all things heare and fear;

Softnesse, and peace, and joy, and love, and blisse,
Exalted Manna, gladnesse of the best,
Heaven in ordinarie, man well drest,
The milkie way, the bird of Paradise,

Church-bels beyond the starres heard, the souls bloude,
The land of spices; something understood.

That ending! Read the poem again and OUT LOUD.

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