Thursday, April 2, 2009

Write a List Poem of Lessons Learned

A few weeks ago I came across some scribblings I wrote as I watched Little Women (the Winona Ryder version that I picked up for $5 at Target, and I love it for many reasons, but most of all because it makes me want to stay up all night writing).

I wrote down the lessons we might learn from Little Women: sisters will die and men might leave you (if only to go to war) and your hair is your one beauty.

Can such a list make a good poem? I like the alliteration in the title: Lessons Learned from Little Women. But a poem needs more than a good title, and I think list poems desperately need some larger point. As I play with the list, I'm somewhat shocked at how little these lessons have changed, even though Jo March lived in the 1860's, and I live now--perhaps that would be my focus.

Typing the name Jo March makes me remember Geraldine Brooks' fabulous book March that came out several years ago. Another title that makes me jealous--all the ways that word fits the book. But I digress.

Interesting also, as I play with these ideas: so many of the ways that women generated money during the time period of the Civil War involved their bodies: selling hair is the most obvious. Alcott's story doesn't specifically mention prostitution, but it lurks in the background for me. We start by selling parts of ourselves that don't matter (our hair), and move on from there. Even Alcott's writing success is tinged by the knowledge that she wasn't writing what she most wanted to write, or at least that's how I've interpreted her literary trajectory, with all the manuscripts we've found in the last two decades and the work that she published under pseudonyms. I've always thought that she wrote Little Women out of a desperate need for money and then, with its success, she found a reading public that wasn't interested in reading any other type of work from her.

So, my list poem has evolved into something else, but I'm happy with it.

Now I'm wondering how many other movies and novels out there might lend themselves to similar treatment: start with a list, let your mind wander, and come up with a poem that's different from what you intended, but intriguing all the same.


Shefali Shah Choksi said...

would you believe it? i have a really bad poem that links Jo March's haircut to Rapunzel's. Both lead to tears, a certain blindness and disasters, free the girls, even offer a coming-of-age ritual that turn these girls into women.
what do you think?

Kristin said...

I love these ideas! I never thought of those connections--I can hardly wait to read the poem.