How to Write a Catalog Poem (With or Without Words)

The steady crescendo of cataloging, when done well, does not so much call attention to itself as it creates an inner sensation of power— like the waves of the sea ever-gathering towards shore, saying, “I am here, I was here yesterday, I will be here tomorrow.”

Listen, for instance to the catalog technique in Whitman’s Song of Myself…

Through me many long dumb voices,
Voices of the interminable generations of prisoners and slaves,
Voices of the diseas’d and despairing and of thieves and
Voices of cycles of preparation and accretion…

As Hirsch notes, quoting Sacks along the way, “‘Repetition creates a sense of continuity, of an unbroken pattern such as one may oppose to the extreme discontinuity of death’…. reiterations are a creative response to psychological trauma.” (p.151, How to Read a Poem)

So there is something powerful and primal about repetition, from drumbeats to heartbeats to modern pop music (“Body, body,” (or is it “Party, party”?) Madonna repeats, almost like a prayer). Thus, for the person who thinks he has no need for poetry, cataloging becomes a question: are you sure about that? After all, good poetry feels an awful lot like “life-essence.”

This month at Every Day Poems, we’re exploring the catalog technique. June seems a good time to assert “life.” You could join us by writing your own catalog poems. Or just read along.


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. L. L. Barkat says

    Joel, I loved your poem!! So glad you tried it.

    Laura, well you knew you were doing something in all that dirt, right? :) You make me laugh!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *