09 May 2007

How To Write a List

For some reason, I'm still on a poetry kick. What sort of test can you apply that will indicate a great poet as opposed to just an average or good one?

One way, is "Can they write a list?" This may sound silly, but the greatest poets can write a poem that looks as if they were going shopping for groceries while making you see, taste, and feel a whole host of emotions. Here are two examples.

First up, Langston Hughes. How many ways can you say shades of brown while making the reader view them as real, vibrant women?

Langston Hughes

Harlem Sweeties

Have you dug the spill
Of Sugar Hill?
Cast your gims
On this sepia thrill:
Brown sugar lassie,
Caramel treat,
Honey-gold baby
Sweet enough to eat.
Peach-skinned girlie,
Coffee and cream,
Chocolate darling
Out of a dream.
Walnut tinted
Or cocoa brown,
Pride of the town.
Rich cream-colored
plum-tinted black,
Feminine sweetness
In Harlem’s no lack.
Glow of the quince
To blush of the rose.
Persimmon bronze
To cinnamon toes.
Blackberry cordial,
Virginia Dare wine—
All those sweet colors
Flavor Harlem of mine!
Walnut or cocoa,
Let me repeat:
Caramel, brown sugar,
A chocolate treat.
Molasses taffy,
Coffee and cream,
Licorice, clove, cinnamon
To a honey-brown dream.
Ginger, wine-gold,
Persimmon, blackberry,
All through the spectrum
Harlem girls vary—
So if you want to know
beauty’s Rainbow-sweet thrill,
Stroll down luscious,
Delicious, fine Sugar Hill

If you must mourn the loss of your dearest love, you might want to list all the
things that will no longer be needed and all the preparations that must be
made for the funeral.

W. H. Auden
1907 - 1973

Funeral Blues

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He is Dead.
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.
He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.
The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the woods;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.


Malinda777 said...

I'm not great on poetry, but my dear father that raised me born in 1898...was a great burly manly man. But he used to be able to quote that one classic... "How to I love thee...let me count the ways"...

I was too little sitting on his knee giggling to appreciate the greatness of it then...but I think from that one "list poem"...I gained a love of great poetry.

Women on the Verge said...

And don't forget Walt Whitman too... the great poets elevate the mundane to the majestic.

I read the great poets out loud to my daughters. Even if they don't "get it" they can still appreciate the richness of the language and imagery...

Thank you for sharing two beautiful poems... you lifted my morning!


Jamie said...

My favorite line from Elizabeth Browning's 18th sonnet is

I love thee to the level of everyday's Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.

This Eclectic Life said...

Thank you, Jamie. I had not read the first, but was familiar with the second. The words were so lovely they made hairs stand on my arms.

scribbit said...

Wow, what imagery and beauty in language--I'd never read Hughes' poetry before and obviously I've been missing out, thanks.

Danielle said...

I too haven't read that one from Hughes. I love his Dream Deferred and what a handsome man, he was.
Great theme.