New Poetry, Fiction, Essays

Escaping the dead hand of writer’s block 5 Writers’ Prompts – Lists

By Shirley Bell.


A list poem is what it says it is – it can be a list of things, people, places, ideas. Repetition of the thing being listed can be effective and rhyming can be useful for emphasis  but it is optional.

It is a form that lends itself to humour, with a strong beat and a sing-song musical rhythm, as well as a rhyme scheme. But although the list poem is a staple for classroom creativity, it does not have to be poetry for children and topics can be secrets, lies, what I hate, with an adult twist.

I have included some interesting and definitely adult poems for inspiration and closed with humour.

So, you can try I am a… I was a… my house is… my secrets are…my sorrows are, in the darkness I…fear is… I hate,  or try questions. The confessional poet, Anne Sexton, with her history of mental illness, who wrote the unsettling list poem below, Anna who was mad,  asks am I, did I,  and gives instructions, take me, give me, write me.

Her Wikepedia entry says “Anne Sexton (November 9, 1928 – October 4, 1974) was an American poet, known for her highly personal, confessional verse. She won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1967 for her book Live or Die. Themes of her poetry include her long battle against depression and mania, suicidal tendencies, and various intimate details from her private life, including her relationships with her husband and children.”

Anne Sexton is often coupled with Sylvia Plath; both were suicides. I loved Sylvia Plath’s poetry with a passion but reading it when I had tiny children could feel toxic.


Anna who was mad – Anne Sexton

Anna who was mad,
I have a knife in my armpit.
When I stand on tiptoe I tap out messages.
Am I some sort of infection?Did I make you go insane?
Did I make the sounds go sour?
Did I tell you to climb out the window?
Forgive. Forgive.
Say not I did.
Say not.

Speak Mary-words into our pillow.
Take me the gangling twelve-year-old
into your sunken lap.
Whisper like a buttercup.
Eat me. Eat me up like cream pudding.
Take me in.
Take me.

Give me a report on the condition of my soul.
Give me a complete statement of my actions.
Hand me a jack-in-the-pulpit and let me listen in.
Put me in the stirrups and bring a tour group through.
Number my sins on the grocery list and let me buy.
Did I make you go insane?
Did I turn up your earphone and let a siren drive through?
Did I open the door for the mustached psychiatrist
who dragged you out like a gold cart?
Did I make you go insane?
From the grave write me, Anna!You are nothing but ashes
but nevertheless pick up the Parker Pen I gave you.

Write me.



And now to Joseph Brodsky 1940 –  1996 Wikipedia summarises him as “a Russian and American poet and essayist. Born in Leningrad in 1940, Brodsky ran afoul of Soviet authorities and was expelled (“strongly advised” to emigrate) from the Soviet Union in 1972, settling in the United States with the help of W. H. Auden and other supporters. He taught thereafter at Mount Holyoke College, and at universities including Yale, Columbia, Cambridge and Michigan. Brodsky was awarded the 1987 Nobel Prize in Literature “for an all-embracing authorship, imbued with clarity of thought and poetic intensity”. He was appointed United States Poet Laureate in 1991.”  This is his deceptively simple list poem:-


A list of some observation –  Joseph Brodsky

A list of some observation. In a corner, it’s warm.
A glance leaves an imprint on anything it’s dwelt on.
Water is glass’s most public form.
Man is more frightening than its skeleton.
A nowhere winter evening with wine. A black
porch resists an osier’s stiff assaults.
Fixed on an elbow, the body bulks
like a glacier’s debris, a moraine of sorts.
A millennium hence, they’ll no doubt expose
a fossil bivalve propped behind this gauze
cloth, with the print of lips under the print of fringe,
mumbling “Good night” to a window hinge.


The one that follows is a bite back of critics of slam poetry, spoken word, performance poetry, which is
an uneasy bedfellow to more conventional poetry. I am hoping to get a couple of articles from people in the spoken word world in later issues, but here is Emanuel Xavier’s riotous answer back.

Wikepdia introduces him as”Emanuel Xavier (born May 3, 1971),[1] is an American poet, spoken word artist, novelist, editor, and activist born and raised in New York City, in the Bushwick area of Brooklyn. Of Puerto Rican and Ecuadorian ancestry,[2] he emerged from the neo-Nuyorican spoken word movement to become a successful writer and advocate for gay youth programs and Latino gay literature.[3] Once a street hustler and drug dealer, he has conducted spoken word poetry workshops and produced benefits and events for youth organizations around the United States”.

THE DEATH OF ART  – Emanuel Xavier

“Reading well is one of the great pleasures that solitude can afford you.”
-critic Harold Bloom, who first called slam poetry “the death of art”

.I am not a poet.

I want to be rich and buy things for my family.

Besides, I am sort of popular and can honestly say I’ve had a great sex life.


I am not a poet.

Georgia O’ Keefe paintings do absolutely nothing for me.

I do not feel oppressed or depressed and no longer have anything to say about the President.


I am not a poet.

I do not like being called an “activist” because it takes away from those that are out on the streets protesting and fighting for our rights.


I am not a poet.

I eat poultry and

fish and suck way too much dick to be considered a vegetarian.


I am not a poet.

I would most likely give my ass up in prison before trying to save it with poetry .


and I’d like it! Heck, I’d probably be inspired.


I am not a poet.

I may value peace but I will not simply use a pen to unleash my anger.

I would fuck somebody up if I had to.


I am not a poet.

I may have


been abused and had a difficult life but I don’t want pity.

I believe laughter and love heals.


I am not a poet.

I am not dying.

I write a lot about AIDS and how it has affected my life but, despite the rumors, I am not positive.

Believe it or not, weight loss amongst sexually active gay men could still be a choice.


I am not a poet.

I do not get Kerouac or honestly care much for Bukowski.


I am not a poet.

I don’t spend my weekends reading and writing.

I like to go out and party.

I like to have a few cocktails but I do not have a drinking problem regardless of what borough, city or state I may wake up in.


I am not a poet.

I don’t need drugs to open up my imagination.

I’ve been a dealer and had a really bad habit but that was long before I started writing.


I am not a poet.

I can seriously only tolerate about half an hour of spoken word before I start tuning out and thinking about my grocery list or what my cats are up to.


I am not a poet.

I only do poetry events if I know there will be cute guys there and I always carry business cards.


I am not a poet according to the scholars and academics and Harold Bloom.

I only write to masturbate my mind.

After all, fucking yourself is one of the great pleasures that solitude can afford you.


I am not a poet.

I am only trying to get attention and convince myself that poetry can save lives when my words simply and proudly contribute to “the death of art.


“Benjamin Obadiah Iqbal Zephaniah (born 15 April 1958)[1] is a British writer, dub poet and Rastafarian. He was included in The Times list of Britain’s top 50 post-war writers in 2008” – Wikepedia

When I was interviewed by Benjamin Zephaniah, as part of Made in Manchester’s documentary on Brexit  for BBC Radio 4 earlier this month, as a vegan he was offered baked potato (on its own of course) and salad.

He said he did not care for salad.  So, surprised, I asked, like everyone he ever talks to must ask, “then what do you eat” .

And,  as he must always answer, he recited this to me!


Vegan Delight –Benjamin Zephaniah

Ackees, chapatties
Dumplins an nan,
Channa an rotis
Onion uttapam,
Masala dosa
Green callaloo
Bhel an samosa
Corn an aloo.
Yam an cassava
Pepperpot stew,
Rotlo an guava
Rice an tofu,
Puri, paratha
Sesame casserole,
Brown eggless pasta
An brown bread rolls.

Soya milked muesli
Soya bean curd,
Soya sweet sweeties
Soya’s de word,
Soya bean margarine
Soya bean sauce,
What can mek medicine?
Soya of course.

Soya meks yoghurt
Soya ice-cream,
Or soya sorbet
Soya reigns supreme,
Soya sticks liquoriced
Soya salads
Try any soya dish
Soya is bad.

Plantain an tabouli
Cornmeal pudding
Onion bhajee
Wid plenty cumin,
Breadfruit an coconuts
Molasses tea
Dairy free omelettes
Very chilli.
Ginger bread, nut roast
Sorrell, paw paw,
Cocoa an rye toast
I tek dem on tour,
Drinking cool maubi
Meks me feel sweet,
What was dat question now?
What do we eat?

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