Catalog Poems, poetry, poetry teaching resources, writer's group resources

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


Buttercup Catalog Poems

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”

Your Comments

9 Comments so far

  1. Jejpoet says:

    I posted an attempt at a a catalog poem on my blog. There’s subtle repetition, but I’m not sure whether it qualifies or not.

  2. laura says:

    Oh, my goodness. So that’s what I’ve been doing in the garden. Cataloging. Who knew?

  3. 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!

  4. And I tried…
    really I did try…
    but all is…
    it’s Maureen’s doing…

  5. OK. I tried one. It’ll be on my blog just for the day.

    Thanks for the prompts! I’m trying to ease back in.


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    [...] are cataloging their way through a month of magnificent poetry, which I have been using as photographic prompts [...]

  2. Lavender-Grey | Kelly Sauer | Real Life, Fine Art - June 15, 2011

    [...] get EIGHT images! And for an added bonus, we were collaborating with Tweetspeak Poetry this week, writing catalog poems about our [...]

  3. Willy Loman: A Catalog Poem | A Poetic Matter - July 14, 2011

    [...] at the discussion surrounds a technique called cataloging. Here’s my attempt with a little inspiration from Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. [...]

  4. A Book of Beginnings: Motion | Tweetspeak PoetryTweetspeak Poetry - May 31, 2013

    [...] “You meant to repeat yourself? You are such a poet.” [...]

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