The Poetry of List-Making

For this week’s Discover Challenge, explore the poetic power of list-making.

I come from a family of list makers. At one point in my childhood, I remember my mother — managing full-time work and single-parenthood — running out of space for all of her to-dos that she started sticking her Post-it notes to her pocketbook.

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, as they say, and as I grew older, I started to rely on lists more and more. My personal worst? During college, I wrote out a schedule for myself, down to fifteen-minute increments, to organize all of the events of the day. Type As unite (in a perfectly straight line, if you will)!

Life is chaotic and messy. As humans, we try to make order of that chaos through schedules, spreadsheets, and task managers. That’s why I related to what Things We Like blogger Jessica Gross said in a recent Discover interview:

I am obsessed with making lists because I’m a very anxious person and it calms me. I was often finding myself making lists of things that I like to sort of remind myself of the fact that I have interests and that there are beautiful things in the world.

Gross’ site is an homage to lists, even elevating them to an artistic level. In a way, lists are a bit like disciplined poetry. Writing out lists of things you love, things you fear, things that make you happy, things accomplished in day-to-day life — these are all some of the best themes of literature.

For this week’s challenge, explore the artistic side of list-making. Write a poem consisting of ten items that remind you of summer. Describe your first love in five bullet points. Map out your bucket list using words that describe how each experience would change you.

Words aren’t your thing? No problem. What does a photographic list look like? How about a list comprised entirely of collaged images to express your thoughts? Using the list form as your foundation, turn it into something unexpectedly beautiful.

Use the chaos of day-to-day life and turn it into an organized, numbered biography of yourself. After all, it’s a) excellent practice, b) fun to try, and c) more challenging than you’d expect. (See what we did there?)

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  1. I can relate to making a list of to dos… and sometimes I wish I have that habit.. and be as organized as i should be … but I am not.. and I don’t follow through …

    my obsession is making a budget daily… financially ..i would do the same thing everyday with the same amount of money hoping to get a different result.
    But.. at least I always know exactly how much I have available…

    so we all our thing that we do to get through our daily life.

    Liked by 5 people

  2. I write lists. I enjoy the actual writing, or typing a list. I’m not a type A, but I sometimes get overwhelmed when there is a lot to accomplish. With a list, if this happens, I can refer to it, do one thing then I’m back on track. They are calming. Love the assignment too!

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  3. I also have a list-writing heritage. I can remember my mother writing out lists for each of us at the breakfast table in the summer. I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but she was not only putting some structure in our day, but also providing an incentive for tackling the chores, a reward for when we were done. It would be slicing the watermelon, or a tea party with freshly baked cookies, or a bus ride to downtown Nashville. Pausing by the breakfast table long enough to put a line through tasks accomplished provided its own incentive, but I try to include the “special reward” in my list-making to this day – thereby justifying what I most want to do!

    The heritage of list writing has been passed along, and our poet daughter once wrote a Grocery list poem, with Sriracha as a recurring item….

    Liked by 11 people

  4. I am just like you! When there are things to do to say, prepare for a trip, I will use my iCalendar and schedule everything that there is to do! Plus theres a whiteboard with a list on it in my kitchen. Always making lists! Great read!

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Appreciated your comment — A friend of ours has tried to introduce us to the sticky-notes on whiteboard, where the immediate and long term goals are posted in columns and the accomplishments move across from to do to done columns, so that you can see the gains. This is especially good when the to-do list is overwhelming!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Initially, I was skeptical ’bout forming lists or schedules. But once my cousin left to Dubai, I started feeling all alone and got engulfed into this whirlwind of boredom.(‘cuz we used to binge watch GoT and Breaking Bad all day). I just maundered around doing nothing. But later, just for the sake of killing time, I begun making lists and schedules throughout the day. It actually helped! It really did! Now I’m busy with all kinds of stuff making myself useful. So, yes, I agree with you…lists do help.

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  6. I write lists, always have done. Only now I’m not so obsessive about completing all the tasks in one day. At some point I realised the list was a prompt not a must complete today tool 🙂

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  7. I am exactly the same. It really does help me get through the week. I divide my list into sections: Urgent, things that need to be done in good weather, things that can be done when it is raining. General list. Shopping.

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    1. Hey Bryan! Thanks for linking your post here. I just checked the settings on your blog and post and everything appears set up correctly to add a pingback. Is this happening with all pingbacks, or just a few?

      If it’s happening consistently, can you reach out to our support team so we can take a look for you? Thanks!


  8. As a med student, wife, and mom, I have found that lists make my life easier! By making a list of things that are on my mind, I can fall asleep quicker. I feel like once its on paper, my mind is freed up just a little.
    I enjoyed reading your blog 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  9. I’m a compulsive list-maker, too. If I don’t make a daily list, I forget things and then all heck breaks loose. It helps keep me sane, knowing that the things I need to accomplish are written down and I don’t have to try and keep it all in my brain.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Iman! The best advice I’ve received on writing poetry is to write your feelings. Distill those feelings to the their purest or simplest thoughts. That is poetry. Simple but profound. The more you write, the easier it gets to reach that thought you want to share. Good luck. 😉

      Liked by 2 people

  10. There are only a few reasons I resort to lists. One useful type is the checkoff list when planning a trip, the Grocery list, don’t want to forget the milk, and the party list, don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.

    As a person who changes her mind within the same hour of making a choice, I find lists confining and that confinement makes me nervous. I married a man whose life was the list. Had I known of this obsessive compulsion I wonder if I would have married him. His list was the law and if amendments were made, the entire list would be written over so that there did not appear to have been any changes made.

    After a few years under the control of his lists, I became dependent on his list to hold important things I normally would have put to memory. When we divorced, fifteen years later, he kept details of my life on his lists, calling me a week in advance regarding the date that our son’s play was to be held. I learned not to divulge information in regard to my plans knowing the details would be added to his lists and I would have to endure the constant reminders until the date passed.

    Thirty years later, every morning, he writes down what will be his life for the day, he calls it his list, I call it his obsession.

    Liked by 1 person

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