How to Write a Catalog Poem (or Not)

How to Write a Catalog Poem

How hard could it be?

I was reading about a poetry technique called cataloging. It seemed simple enough. Until I tried it. The technique uses word-repetition to create a sense of praise (for the object, concept, or beloved). Or sometimes to create a sense of magic or prophetic voice.

The Steps to Write a Catalog Poem Are Simple

1. Repeat a single word or phrase at the beginning of your lines
2. Repeat a single word or phrase at the end of your lines
3. Mix it up. When it starts to feel boring, stop cataloging for a few lines

So. How hard could it be to repeat words and make a good catalog poem?

Whitman did it in Song of Myself…

Have you reckon’d a thousand acres much? have you reckon’d the earth much?
Have you practis’d so long to learn to read?
Have you felt so proud to get at the meaning of poems?

Robert Desnos did it in The Voice of Robert Desnos…

the one I love is not listening
the one I love does not hear
the one I love does not answer

Red Truck Poetry Catalog PoemDavid K. Wheeler did it in On Restlessness…

There was never a time that I knew everything.
There wasn’t a night I wanted you to lose sleep.
There are some words you can say with a blink.
There are nights I wake up curled on the floor.
There are appliances that refuse to operate.
There are solutions that don’t have a question.

But in the end, I could not write a catalog poem. Not to my satisfaction. So I wrote this poem instead…

Poetry 101: Cataloging

All day I have been tapping out words, trying to catalog
my love for you. I’ve been sketching where the type would go
and the images— Bratz, Tonkas, a red truck that takes off
without pushing, after just a bit of pre-winding against a warm oak floor.
I’ve been shaking words into phrases that could go under little squares
on catalog pages; squares of silken ties, underwear, tube socks
and, surprisingly, Martha Stewart pillows (throw, in all the latest
catalog colors; this year it’s yellow, which is far too bright
for how I feel… a catalog should never steal my love by pushing
the commercial sense of hue and shade on I-love-you; I tried those
too, you know— notebooks stamped I love you, with bubble hearts,
balloons, and ungodly purple butterflies). No matter how I listed,
squared, adjusted like a quintessential Sears, nothing seemed to finally do
what a catalog of broken lines should somehow, without measure, do.

Featured image by Luis de Bethencourt, Creative Commons license via Flickr. Truck photo and post by L.L. Barkat, author of Love, Etc.: Poems of Love, Laughter, Longing & Loss


How to Read a Poem: Based on the Billy Collins Poem “Introduction to Poetry”


  1. says

    Attempted Catalog Poem

    By the way…ov.wjj/2011
    By the way, I spoke to Father today ,He said long time my son
    By the way he spoke He was far away ,Out of sight , waiting , for my long return
    By the way It looks there is no end or middle of the road
    By the way it feels, oh ,so nice to touch smooth skin, the velvet and her taffeta rose
    By the way He said his name I knew, His speaking likely was the truth
    By the way I learned of biblical tales, the Lord ,my Master, faithful Moabite Ruth
    By the way I left my mark right here, the tree has grown since this high
    By the way I saw my mark lifted clear ,reaching ever higher into the endless sky
    By the way I feel I need to rest or drink
    By the way I came here needing to sit I think?
    By the way of this path long rides I’ve gone .
    By the way I saw my child hood home .
    By the way we think , or receive the rest we seek
    Lay gently here and of Him I speak
    By the way we go our life is spent
    Long ,green branch life is often bent
    By the way our time , it is always treasured
    By the way ,as it ends ,our time is always measured
    By the way , By the way


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