The Work of a Poem

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The Work of a Poem

I was going to write about the Sears catalog. Or maybe it was J.C. Penny's. When I was a kid, I studied the Holiday Catalog for a whole month before Christmas. Circling, tabbing, dreaming. My sister and I talked endlessly about the horses with silky manes, the dolls that cried, the Legos that could be built into masterpiece houses.

I was going to write about the magic of that.

Then my daughter starting reading aloud to my other daughter— a book called The Penultimate Peril. It featured a hotel that was set up according to the Dewey Decimal Catalog System. I thought that was pretty clever of Lemony (the author's supposed first name). And there was also some reference to how you might find a room of German poets if you consulted the hotel catalog. I am probably more attracted to French poetry, but the whole thing seemed amusing to me, and a bit surreal.

I was going to write about that too. It felt oddly mystical.

But I felt very tired. It had been a long day. Somebody lost a loved one. Somebody else was hurt in a way that broke my heart. I edited other people's words. I got a hair cut. I had to go grocery shopping when I didn't feel like it. The world showed up on my Internet screen, full of tragedy.

I find it difficult to write when I am tired.

So I found some poetry and went upstairs to my room. There is something about poetry, when the world feels too much with us.

On my way to respite, I stopped in to Marcus's latest post on Thomas. At the end, I forgot to say anything to Marcus about his wonderful, honest words, because I got sidetracked by Glynn's comment. It was like Glynn knew I was tired, and he started what I couldn't start. All day I couldn't start. All day I thought, tomorrow, tomorrow.

Glynn had written his comment something like a catalog poem, each line beginning with "He's here." That's what catalog poems do. They repeat words, usually at the start or the end of a series of lines, like this from David K. Wheeler's poem Contingency Plans...

     Make sure to keep the knot from slipping out of sight.
     Make sure to tell each, I love you, I love you, I love you... 

The repetition builds and creates a sense of magic, a feeling of the mystical, or even of prophecy or praise. It transcends  a person's thoughts and cares, moving him to a different frame of mind— a bit like a lullaby for the tired soul.

I have tried this myself. Catalog poems. They are hard work. Hard work that, if done well, might ease another's tired soul—not solve anything necessarily, but perhaps unravel, unbind.

I was going to write about that. The work of cataloged words. The work of a poem.


Try It?

This week, try writing a poem using the catalog technique. For more instruction on "how-to," go here and here. If you want some visual inspiration to play off, check out these. Or just write a poem of any kind, if catalogs aren't your thing. Post your poem on your blog and link back to, for links and a possible feature in next week's follow-up post. Leave your link in my comment box by Wednesday, November 10th, so I don't miss you.

Photo by A Simple Country Girl. Used with permission. Post by L.L. Barkat, author of InsideOut: Poems

“Most of the material on The High Calling is available for reuse under a Creative Commons 3.0 license. Unfortunately, work by Laura Barkat is not available for reuse. If you are interested in reprinting work by Laura Barkat, please contact her directly.”

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