Monday, December 05, 2011

Monday Poetry Stretch - "Index" or "Table of Contents" Poem

If you could write your life or someone else's in an abbreviated form, what would it look like? This is the question I ask myself every time I read Paul Violi's poem "Index." You can read the poem at The Agonist. You may also be interested in Violi's words on the poem.

While thinking this might be an interesting form to try, I came across some "table of contents" poems.

So, I'm imagining this as something of a biographical (or autobiographical) list poem. Let's see what kind of poetry we can make of this, shall we? Leave me a note about your poem and I'll share the results here later this week.


  1. Kate: The Convoluted Tale of a Woman of Perilous Wit, Occasional Charm, and Dubious Beauty

    First Chapter: I am born and am given away in short order

    Second Chapter: I am joined by a large number of small siblings

    Third Chapter: I spend numerous lunches and recesses consorting with books in the school library

    Fourth Chapter: I join the band, betraying the clarinet for an oboe of thin and treacherous reeds

    Fifth Chapter: I toy with the idea of becoming an artist, though I am utterly lacking in narrow, fey, or Bohemian qualities

    Sixth Chapter: I succumb to my inner nature and study English

    Seventh Chapter: I pass 18 months in Argentina, where I eat facturas and learn to speak of religion in vos

    Eighth Chapter: I earn a master's degree for no memorable reason and subsequently survive an earthquake

    Ninth Chapter: I fancy myself an editor of coffee table books

    Tenth Chapter: I bypass marriage and children as if I had missed a freeway exit

    Eleventh Chapter: I move to Chicago and perforce fancy myself an editor again

    Twelfth Chapter: I attempt to teach pot-scented collegians aimlessly covered in body piercings and dark forebodings how to write

    Thirteenth Chapter: I sell six children's books and wait about rather peevishly for them to be published

    Fourteenth Chapter: I attempt to teach kindergartners to act civilized with no help whatsoever from Professor Henry Higgins

    Fifteenth Chapter: I drive from house to house through the city of Los Angeles, instructing children who are ill and wishing for all sorts of things other than algebra

    Sixteenth Chapter: I defy expectations by moving to Utah, where I get yet another job as an editor

    Seventeenth Chapter: Snow falls, winds blow, and I am inclined to write quilts made of poetry

    --Kate Coombs, 2011
    all rights reserved

  2. That is absolutely brilliant, Kate.

    Here;s my attempt, alas, quite flatfooted.


    1. Inked whorls at the Beth Israel Hospital in New York, right one smudged, even then a kicker.

    2. First step in an apartment, Central Park, no one remembers. Or no longer cares.

    3. Dances to Daddy's guitar, though he has eyes only for the strings. Photo by a besotted uncle. Mother's smile is slow.

    4. Kicks a slinky down the stairs from the fourth floor on into a tangled mess. Daddy gets me another.

    5. Wearing skates, falls down a step, cuts open chin, first scar.

    6. Climbs the slide to recover a friend's snow shovel, gets hit with the edge. It's Yom Kippur no neighborhood doctors available, second scar.

    7. First toe shoes, bloody mess, third and fourth and fifth scars.

    8. Trips over tongue, over lindy-hopping heartless boy. Sixth scar.

    9. Kicks self.

    10. Dances at wedding with a man who cannot dance but can love.

    11. Hikes Greek mountain pregnant loving every kick.

    12. What do scars matter when life itself is taken one foot at a time.

    ©2011 Jane Yolen all rights reserved

  3. Kate, we have something in common! (You'll see what when you read mine.) Love your last line.

    Jane, love number 12. And number 10, which reminds me I have one of those.

    Thanks to both of you for sharing.

  4. Here's my poem.

    Part 1 – Unknown Origins
    December 1964 – Free love isn’t free
    August 29th, 1965 – Finally out
    Days later – The social worker asks, “Do you want a baby?”
    September 1965 – Homeward bound

    Part 2 – The Early Years (1966-1970)
    Older brother and sister think I’m too skinny
    Only milk, but corn on the cob for dessert
    Constantly moving, always outside
    Corralled by chicken wire
    No one wants to call me for dinner
    Dad carries me by one arm, I carry my bike
    Stubborn doesn’t begin to describe me

    Part 3 – School and Then Some (1970-1988)
    Reading all the time
    Stealing books off my brother’s shelf
    The Pushcart War, The Phantom Tollbooth, The Hobbit
    Love school, hate routine
    Math and science speak to me
    Play sports, sing, sing, SING
    Write angsty teenage poetry
    1983 - Graduate, operation, gap year
    New London and summers on the Eagle
    New school, new studies

    Part 4 – The Real World (1988-1994)
    New city, new job
    Science teacher
    Love the kids, hate the kids
    Middle school is a roller coaster I ride for free!
    Grad school
    Love connection
    Sleep eludes me
    Morning wedding, double rainbow
    No honeymoon
    Back to writing, writing, writing
    Dissertation defense

    Part 5 – I Live Where? (1994-2009)
    New city, new job
    South of the Mason-Dixon line
    Civil War or War of Northern Aggression?
    I’ve entered the Twilight zone
    Love my job, love my job, LOVE MY JOB
    Ruled by the academic calendar
    Clock ticking
    Baby at 35
    Work and motherhood, a balancing act
    Where do the days go?
    Baby is a growing boy

    Part 6 – Life Changes (2009-present)
    Lost Dad
    Home isn’t home anymore
    More time with mom
    Racking up frequent flyer miles
    How did I get here?
    Still singing
    Still writing
    Still living
    Wondering what’s next . . .

  5. Thanks, Jane! I love the combination of feet, scars, and kicking--not a passive life by any means!

    Aha, Tricia--I like how you said it. "THEY SAID YES!" People who watch too many after-school specials don't realize that an adopted family is, for some of us, ours heart and soul. (You also have something in common with my father, who was a UCLA professor for 32 years and love, love, LOVED HIS JOB.)

  6. Julia’s Tale… or is that Tail?

    Table of Contents: The Early Years

    1. Artless child of modest girth and quaint simian-like features arrives at St. Mary’s Hospital two weeks late, three endearing, life-long traits.

    2. Mother seeks psychiatric advice two years later, secretly afraid a second Julia (often-spotted swinging [via prehensile tail?] from local trees) is on her way.

    3. Precocious child, reading by age three (according to her fanciful mother), shows signs of true intellect when she asks pregnant black woman on city bus if her baby will be black, too. Father disputes both claims.

    4. Spends years 5 – 17 under the auspices of series of psychopathic nuns, emerging none the worse considering her initial state of entry.

    5. Fearful she is headed for the nunnery herself, Julia is banished to remote Catholic College by loving parents in their somewhat tardy attempt to quash torrid love affair between Julia and her high school homeroom teacher.

    6. Year in which Julia flunks out of Holy U. to her parents’ dismay, but is partially redeemed by inappropriate boyfriend dumping her at same juncture.

    7. Following in quick succession, several rag-tag years in which Julia wallows in severe self-pity and anorectic symptoms in wake of unexpected jilting.

    8. Julia claws her way back to college after period of mental lethargy, thus beginning eight year stint at various universities in pursuit of BA, MA, and PhD in English.
    9. Year in which Julia flings herself with blind faith (via self-same tail?) into marriage, NYC and soon thereafter, a life in Paris, where, true to form, she abandons doctoral dissertation and embarks on career of full-time motherhood for next twenty-five years.

    10. Second chapter in Julia’s life begins in which she rekindles love of books after raising four little monkeys of her own and, forgoing all attempts at erudition, somewhat belatedly :) attempts to pursue career in art.


    Under pressure: allow content’s air to escape
    without distraction by imagining a candle flame
    or the air itself upon a wheel.
    Do not shake or drop,
    as contents will quickly sour.
    To prolong shelf life,
    place contents on a fallen oak limb
    in the morning sun and allow to ripen.
    Aging at room temperature,
    will also bring out the rich spice and fruity flavors.
    If the contents spill out and create a sudden disaster,
    try speaking words that start with l and s,
    such as loblolly, lentils, lakes and loons,
    then sweaters, succulents, and simplicity.
    Do not expose the contents to rain,
    electrical storms or the sight or sound of young animal pain.
    If the contents are lost then found,
    leave alone if contents are pickled.
    If a sugar coating appears,
    give a good quick rinse,
    as this coating may have a slightly bitter flavor.
    Contents will reach full maturity without much care
    and should be shared
    with others in a small settings, happy gatherings.
    May be simmered on a warm stone,
    near the phlox in August,
    A damsel fly stirring gently over,
    and music somewhere in the brush,
    preferably Sibelius.

  8. This prompt brought me to package contents. Such is the writer's task. Charles Simic once said something like, writing a poem is a little like heading off to church, soon you wonder how you arrived at the racetrack.

  9. Tess--great interpretation of the prompt! I love all the details, from loblolly to Sibelius. Love how they reveal speaker's (your) personality. Julie

  10. I love Paul Violi - he's a genius at this. Here's my contribution -


    absolution, papal - ix

    accidents involving h. 1-13, 27, 29,43, 45, 49, 57, 60, 62-66, 84, 86, 88-102, 107, 114, 118-119, 123, 142, 146-149, 157,160, 169

    bowling during 88-102

    breath, holding - see fainting mishaps

    chewing, fast and slow 9

    fainting mishaps 27-39

    fingers, ears in 5

    Kissinger, Henry, resignation of 18

    magneseium, not milk of 170, not gargling with 71

    mantra, personal, ineffectiveness of 8

    meditation, impossibility of 17

    nerve, vagus - surgical removal of 38, side effects of 39-68

    Nixon, Richard, erased tapes, 18

    paper bag - see fainting mishaps

    prayers, ineffectiveness of 173

    silly, getting scared 82 unforeseen consequences of 83-88

    Stein, Gertrude, poetry of 40

    t'ai chi, during 65

    The Artist Formerly Known as Prince, career vii

    tickling, unintended addiction to as a result of h. 127

    tongue, holding of 14, unforeseen consequences of 15-17

    vinegar, gargling with 79

    water, gargling with 78

    weight loss and dieting during 159

    whiskey, gargling with 80, 84, 86, 92, 99, 103, 143, 166

    zen, art of the z. hiccup 172

  11. Julie, how very cool! (Now I'm afraid I'll get the hiccups just from having read your poem.) :)

  12. Julie, intriguing and delightful, the perfect vehicle for Gertrude Stein to appear. The index form seems a cataloguer's heaven.

    I want to say how this blog is important to me. I love the voices here. Even if I don't always contribute, I love reading the prompts and seeing the fine results.
    Thank you.