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The Attractant Power and Poetry of List Posts

list 7Did you ever make a list of the qualities you wanted in a lover? Did your list draw to you the one you love? Mine did—eventually–after a string of sour love stories featuring Midwest bars, triangles involving the preacher’s daughter, botched trips to Paris, sports cars that only drove in reverse and more (traversed, written up, thankfully never published). This week we discuss the attractant power of list posts.

Since April is National Poetry Month, I have more than my usual excuse to begin with poets. Nic Sebastian, who blogs at Very Like a Whale, not only cleverly combines list post structures and interviews but makes stunning video poems. In the column The Third Form, Erica Goss turns the spotlight on Sebastian’s work over at Connotation Press. Scroll down midway to see “let me tell you about yourself” with its gorgeous celestial footage (a la Hubble–taken in outer space), the haunting underscored by Sebastian’s breathy reading and the scope of the poem, the way one is simultaneously intimately brought into the inner chambers of the heart and cast out past the orbit of the sun.

But for our purposes here, take a look at Sebastian’s side bar for her Ten Questions Series   where you’ll find links to poets on poetry, poets on publication, poetry editors on publishing poetry and poets on technology. The ten questions used also appear along with links to the completed interviews (Christine Klocek-Lim, Ron Silliman, Reginald Shepherd and many more).

If your poetry self has taken you hostage by now, consider trying your hand at a list poem. My favorite remains Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird,  which this morning in my sleep-deprived state I typed in as Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Mockingbird. For an even better Freudian slip, read Hopeless Carnage: Sisu the Siberian Husky and The Song of Sedna. Or if you want to write a collaborative list poem with another poet, read “Poetry and Collaboration: Denise Duhamel and Maureen Seaton” (though this example probably belongs in my prior posts on collaboration or interviews). Duhamel and Seaton take turns speaking about their fifteen years of working together and additionally give us their Ten Commandments of Collaboration.

Another oft-quoted list poem:  Jubilate Agno, Part B, (For my Cat Jeoffry), by Christopher Smart… For he can catch the cork and toss it again. Etc. For he is a mixture of gravity and swagger. Etc. Poet Jo Bryant on her Chronicles of Illusions blog addresses notions behind list poems (What is a list poem?)  where you’ll also find the cat poem I’m quoting from here. (And while we’re riffing on cats, for a hilarious visual diagram of the portions of a cat lover’s brain, see Maria Popova’s post Lost Cat: An Illustrated Meditation on Love, Loss, and What it Means to Be Human.

Jo Bryant begins her serious list play under her About tab.  The one liners about her life tumble together to assemble a version of who she is. Down at the very bottom of that extensive list we get another list of links with strong click pull—100 Things (which she describes as “little bits of me so you can get to know me and my journey through life a little better”). Next, “20 more things,” “20- more things #2,” “My Younger Days,” “Bucket List,” “Music,” “Questions,” and “The art of pirate tagging.” That list of lists can’t help but pique our interest and off we go into the various vaults of Jo Bryant. So what list could you comprise to draw in a reader? And more importantly, how would you title it for the best click pull? Either as a permanent list appearing under your About tab, or for a list post?

Justine Musk proves to be another master list maker. Given today’s publishing scene in which discussions of author platform can stymie one into a straight-jacketed inability to choose the next step, it is refreshing to read Musk’s thoughts. She helps thresh the chaffe from the wheat in building your author platform even if you’re not published yet, part one: why you need to (and see part 2, part 3, and well, just rummage around). See also How to blog like you mean to change the world, which I realize belongs perhaps in my earlier post on How To posts.

Also look at the poetic reverie of Musk’s 18 principles for highly creative living. I love number 18: Figure out your soul signature. Other lists include: 5 principles to Remember as you Battle The Demons of Creative Procrastination and How to go beyond happiness ( + Neil Gaman’s advice on creative living). Another favorite: the secret dharma of women in which Musk recalibrates, renames, and encourages women to define themselves and their potential. I hope you’ll hunt through her titles.

Since we started with love, I’ll close with love. Martha Beck examines the magic properties of love lists in her post, How Magic Lists Help You Get What you Want (on Oprah’s site). Beck qualifies how magic works. Or, check out this goading post, written with playful wit by Kate Gale: Feisty women, should you put up with them? Do you want a feisty woman in your life and bed? And you’ll see in the side bar as well, Why Some Men Prefer Sweet Quiet Women. One of my favorite lines reads, “I am always amazed when spouses say negative things about each other in public. What you have to wonder is what the hell they say to each other in private.” I enjoy Gale’s wit and the way she uses the list to define and question.

Ultimately, why do we make lists? To break things down into manageable steps towards an action (action plan)? To clarify goals, in order to attract the right circumstances to get things done. Or on behalf of art, to find something new, to brainstorm, since list-making encourages the mind to draw unusual associations and plumb creativity? To make a checklist, a shopping list, a materials list, to make sure something isn’t forgotten or left behind. What kind of a list could you make to post on your blog, especially one that hasn’t been written before? Alternately, whose list might you revise?

Or forego the list post, and enchant by telling us how your list drew to you that special child, dream, or lover or more.

Further Fun:

Watkins (bookstore, London): See their List of the 100 Most Spiritually Influential Living People

And discovered since this post was written, from one of my favorite on-line curators, Maria Popova at brain pickings: Susan Sontag on Why Lists Appeal to Us, Plus her Listed Likes and Dislikes

November 2013 addition:

Rosie Sultan, author of Helen in Love (Penguin 2013) offers up a great process list for fellow writers in  Taking Real Life and Transforming it Into Fiction

Sultan begins: How does a historical novelist turn a real person into a fictional character? I have tips for you: eight, to be exact. My historical novel Helen In Love (Penguin 2013) fictionalizes Helen Keller’s real-life love affair. To fictionalize the affair, I spent five years avidly searching for clues to bring that love affair to life







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