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Samuel Peralta here…

Many of my poems begin as challenges to myself – to write using only the letter ‘e’ for a vowel, to meld together an Oriental poetic form with a Western one.

One of my most memorable challenges was to begin a poem with a list of ingredients to a recipe.

That thought simmered for years, before finally finding life in the poem “Sustenance”, where that ingredient list sets the stage for a transformation into something entirely different:

     from Sustenance
     by Samuel Peralta

     3 pounds pork shoulder, cubed to 1″ size
     1 cup orange juice, sour to bitter
     1 hot green pepper, diced
     1 large onion, finely chopped
     1/2 cup sliced shallots
     1 teaspoon each of salt, black pepper
               On the kitchen
     television, the evening programming
     brings in the latest from Port-au-Prince,
     a different litany of figures: 7.0 magnitude;
     245,000 buildings destroyed; over 160,000
     dead; 3,000,000 injured and homeless. And
     here, in my chef’s kitchen, I am preparing
               a calorically
     sinful dish we’d fallen improbably
     in love with, on a trip five years past.

List poems are fairly straightforward to write. You choose the subject matter, and then free-associate ideas about that subject, capturing the ideas in a word or phrase.

Once you have that list of words or phrases, you then use your artistic intuition to edit the list into a finished work.

That editing is what separates a list poem from a simple list.

As one example, you could re-write each phrase so that it lends, gradually, to building up a theme or perspective about the subject.

Or you could order the list so that the phrases tell a story as you continue down the list.

In capable hands, list poems can be incredibly powerful. Witness for example, how Patricia Lockwood wields it in her poem, “Rape Joke”.

One specific type of list poem is one based on the output of search engines, such as Google.

Here, for example, is “Sorry, Google Doesn’t Know Jealousy” by Denise Duhamel. The montage video was conceived and produced by Didi Menendez of Goss183, who published the only chapbook I currently have in print form, “Sonnets from the Labrador”.

A total of 65 poets read each individual line of the Duhamel’s list poem, including Obama inaugural poet Richard Blanco, Laurie Kolp, Terrance Hayes, Collin Kelley, Michelle Buchanan, Diego Quiros, Emma Trelles, Amy Gerstler, Maureen Seaton, Matthew Hittinger, Stephen Mills, Major Jackson, Duriel Harris – and myself. (Please leave a message in the comments if you can, and if you do, say Sam sent you!)

Duhamel’s poem builds on a list of results known as Googlisms. Paul Cherry conceived the idea for the site Googlism.com, with the creative programming support of Chris Morton.

While not affiliated with Google Inc., the site uses Google.com for creating a stream of results that essentially provide a picture of what Google “thinks” of certain topics and people.

You put in a phrase, click the button, and end up with a list. For example, here is their output for “list poetry”

     Googlism for: list poetry

     list poetry is fun to write
     list poetry is poetry that is written in the form of a list
     list poetry is the i am from poem
     list poetry is as you say
     list poetry is a type that allows poets freedom from rhyme scheme

The results are, in a sense, crowd-sourced from the entire world – including yourself – tens of thousands of thoughts and opinions about a myriad of people, places, and things.

While not able to keep up with the growth of Google, the site still contains nearly 2 million unique Googlisms, and has served an average of 35,000 searches per day, for a total of 16 million searches in total.

Here is the framework for putting together your own list poem based on Googlisms

     1. Think of a seed phrase (for example “The bird flies”)
     2. Go to Googlism.com
     3. Type in your phrase and press “Googlism!”
     4. Note the list of phrases (googlisms) that result
     5. Do some editing/sculpting of the poem
          a. You may use as many or as few of the phrases in your list poem,
          b. You may alter the order of the phrases
          c. You may change punctuation, or upper/lower letter case
          d. You may divide the list into stanzas
          e. Don’t alter the word sequence in any specific phrase
     6. If you would like more than one stanza not built on the same seed phrase, think of another seed phrase for the next stanza and repeat steps 2-5 until you are happy.

And here’s an example of a list poem based on Googlisms:


     the bird flies is visionless
     the bird flies is growing in terms of readership and reach
     the bird flies is actually the main theme
     the bird flies is a book project i took on just recently
     the bird flies is gradually increased over time
     the bird flies is the transformation of
     the bird flies is the fact that the chase legacy
     the bird flies is south of clinton
     the bird flies is skadar lake national park
     the bird flies is square in cross
     the bird flies is then the same as the wave velocity

Tonight, I invite you to contribute your own list poem based on Googlism. You can use the output in a true list poem, or integrate your list as part of a regular poem, such as I did in “Radar”.

It’s not required, but if you wanted to snap a picture to show the actual Googlism output, it would be neat. In fact, for more fun, input your own name into Googlism and see what it says!

When you’ve finished, have a look and see what others have come up with.

I hope you’ll join me in writing and sharing tonight. Thank you.

Samuel Peralta – @Semaphore – is the award-winning author of five titles in The Semaphore CollectionSonata Vampirica, Sonnets from the Labrador, How More Beautiful You Are, Tango Desolado and War and Ablution – all Amazon Kindle #1 Hot New Releases in poetry. His Semaphore | Art & Craft newsletter shares observations on creativity and new project announcements.

Among other new projects, Peralta has recently helped crowd-fund over two dozen independent films, including “Malaika the Princess“, an animated short film from LuaBooks; and has recently signed on to director Enrico Poli’s upcoming film “Closure” as an executive producer.

Copyright (c) Samuel Peralta. All rights reserved.

Images public domain / via WikiMedia Commons or as attributed.