How to Write a "What Bugs Me" List Poem
by Bruce Lansky
A list poem is one of the easiest kinds of poems to write because it doesn’t require either rhythm or rhyme. But that doesn’t mean you should write down anything helter skelter. Here’s a list of elements that makes a list poem a poem instead of just a list:

    1. The writer is telling you something—pointing something out—saying, "Look at this" or, "Think about this."
    2. There’s a beginning and an end to it, like in a story.
    3. Each item in the list is written the same way.

Here’s an example to show you what I mean:

    What Bugs Me

    When my teacher tells me to write a poem.
    When my mother tells me to clean up my room.
    When my sister practices her violin while I’m watching TV.
    When my father tells me to turn off the TV and do my homework.
    When my brother picks a fight with me and I have to go to bed early.
    When my teacher asks me to get up in front of the class and read the poem I wrote on the school bus.

Notice how this poem fulfills the three requirements listed above:

    1. It tells you what’s bugging me.
    2. It tells you that I wasn’t thrilled with the assignment of writing a poem, and I got distracted at home and had to write the poem on the bus the next morning.
    3. Every line has the same structure: "When my ____ does something to me."

To get yourself started writing a list poem about what’s bothering you, write a list of people or things that bug you on the left side of your paper, and on the right side write what bugs you about those people or things. (Everyone likes to share pet peeves!)

Here’s how your list might look:

    My Mother

    She makes me take the garbage out.
    She makes me practice the piano.
    She makes me turn off the TV and do my homework.
    As soon as I go to my room, she turns on the TV and watches it.
    And so on.

Then, add similar details for other people and animals on the list including:

    My father
    My sister
    My best friend
    The neighborhood bully
    The school cop
    My brother
    My dog
    My cat
    My hamster

Once you have your ideas on paper, make a composite poem with the best entries (according to my sample poem above), making sure to use parallel structure and trying as best you can to turn the poem into a story with a beginning and an end.

Then, make up a complete list poem of your own. Here’s an example of a list poem about a noisy brother:

    My Noisy Brother

    He slurps when he eats cereal in the morning.
    He gargles milk.
    He burps after eating.
    He cracks his knuckles.
    He whistles.
    He snaps his fingers.
    He squawks when he’s mad.
    He snores at night.

You may not realize this, but many (if not most) poems written with a consistent rhythm and rhyme pattern are based on a list. For example, Shel Silverstein’s poem "Sick" is based on a list of phony ailments. Once you’ve made a list about what bugs you, you can turn it into a poem with a consistent rhythm and rhyme pattern. Here’s what I did with the "Noisy Brother" list:

    My Noisy Brother

    My brother’s such a noisy kid,
    when he eats soup he slurps.
    When he drinks milk he gargles.
    And after meals he burps.
    He cracks his knuckles when he’s bored.
    He whistles when he walks.
    He snaps his fingers when he sings.
    and when he’s mad he squawks.
    At night my brother snores so loud
    it sounds just like a riot.
    Even when he sleeps
    my noisy brother isn’t quiet.

    ©1996 by Bruce Lansky
    Excerpted from My Dog Ate My Homework with permission of Meadowbrook Press


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