10 Lists That Read Like Poems

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If you’re a frequent visitor to this space, you know that we rather enjoy lists here at Flavorpill. Recently, we found our habit (compulsion?) affirmed by Katie Kitamura’s excellent article on listmaking, “Literary Lists: Proof of Our Existence,” over at The Guardian. In it, Kitamura discussed the appeal of the list, particularly in literature, quoting Umberto Eco, who said, “We have a limit, a very discouraging, humiliating limit: death. That’s why we like all the things that we assume have no limits and, therefore, no end. It’s a way of escaping thoughts about death. We like lists because we don’t want to die.” She goes on to write that “it requires real faith in the powers of fiction beyond style, in the formal aspect of language and its ability to approximate infinity.” Indeed. Inspired by Kitamura’s description of the form, we’ve hunted around for ten great lists, from literary sources and otherwise, that seem like they could be poems in and of themselves. Read through for some list-y inspiration after the jump, and add your own favorites to our infinite list of lists in the comments.

What I Will and Won’t Miss, by Nora Ephron, from I Remember Nothing: And Other Reflections

What I Won’t Miss Dry skin Bad dinners like the one we went to last night E-mail Technology in general My closet Washing my hair Bras Funerals Illness everywhere Polls that show that 32 percent of the American people believe in creationism Polls Fox TV The collapse of the dollar Bar mitzvahs Mammograms Dead flowers The sound of the vacuum cleaner Bills E-mail. I know I already said it, but I want to emphasize it. Small print Panels on Women in Film Taking off makeup every night What I Will Miss My kids Nick Spring Fall Waffles The concept of waffles Bacon A walk in the park The idea of a walk in the park The park Shakespeare in the Park The bed Reading in bed Fireworks Laughs The view out the window Twinkle lights Butter Dinner at home just the two of us Dinner with friends Dinner with friends in cities where none of us lives Paris Next year in Istanbul Pride and Prejudice The Christmas tree Thanksgiving dinner One for the table The dogwood Taking a bath Coming over the bridge to Manhattan Pie

[via Lists of Note]

What happens when you search out Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler, from If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino

So, then, you noticed in a newspaper that If on a winter’s night a traveler had appeared, the new book by Italo Calvino, who hadn’t published for several years. You went to the bookshop and bought the volume. Good for you. In the shop window you have promptly identified the cover with the title you were looking for. Following this visual trail, you have forced your way through the shop past the thick barricade of Books You Haven’t Read, which were frowning at you from the tables and shelves, trying to cow you. But you know you must never allow yourself to be awed, that among them there extend for acres and acres the Books You Needn’t Read, the Books Made For Purposes Other Than Reading, Books Read Even Before You Open Them Since They Belong To The Category Of Books Read Before Being Written. And thus you pass the outer girdle of ramparts, but then you are attacked by the infantry of the Books That If You Had More Than One Life You Would Certainly Also Read But Unfortunately Your Days Are Numbered. With a rapid maneuver you bypass them and move into the phalanxes of the Books You Mean To Read But There Are Others You Must Read First, the Books Too Expensive Now And You’ll Wait Till They’re Remaindered, the Books ditto When They Come Out In Paperback, Books You Can Borrow From Somebody, Books That Everybody’s Read So It’s As If You Had Read Them, Too. Eluding these assaults, you come up beneath the towers of the fortress, where other troops are holding out: the Books You’ve Been Planning To Read For Ages, the Books You’ve Been Hunting For Years Without Success, the Books Dealing With Something You’re Working On At The Moment, the Books You Want To Own So They’ll Be Handy Just In Case, the Books You Could Put Aside Maybe To Read This Summer, the Books You Need To Go With Other Books On Your Shelves, the Books That Fill You With Sudden, Inexplicable Curiosity, Not Easily Justified. (and so on.)
19-year-old Isaac Newton’s list of recently committed sins, from his notebook. Before Whitsunday 1662 Using the word (God) openly Eating an apple at Thy house Making a feather while on Thy day Denying that I made it. Making a mousetrap on Thy day Contriving of the chimes on Thy day Squirting water on Thy day Making pies on Sunday night Swimming in a kimnel on Thy day Putting a pin in Iohn Keys hat on Thy day to pick him Carelessly hearing and committing many sermons Refusing to go to the close at my mothers command Threatning my father and mother Smith to burne them and the house over them Wishing death and hoping it to some Striking many Having uncleane thoughts words and actions and dreamese Stealing cherry cobs from Eduard Storer Denying that I did so Denying a crossbow to my mother and grandmother though I knew of it Setting my heart on money learning pleasure more than Thee A relapse A relapse A breaking again of my covenant renued in the Lords Supper Punching my sister Robbing my mothers box of plums and sugar Calling Dorothy Rose a jade Glutiny in my sickness Peevishness with my mother With my sister Falling out with the servants Divers commissions of alle my duties Idle discourse on Thy day and at other times Not turning nearer to Thee for my affections Not living according to my belief Not loving Thee for Thy self Not loving Thee for Thy goodness to us Not desiring Thy ordinances Not long {longing} for Thee in {illeg} Fearing man above Thee Using unlawful means to bring us out of distresses Caring for worldly things more than God Not craving a blessing from God on our honest endeavors. Missing chapel. Beating Arthur Storer. Peevishness at Master Clarks for a piece of bread and butter. Striving to cheat with a brass halfe crowne. Twisting a cord on Sunday morning Reading the history of the Christian champions on Sunday Since Whitsunday 1662 Glutony Glutony Using Wilfords towel to spare my own Negligence at the chapel. Sermons at Saint Marys (4) Lying about a louse Denying my chamberfellow of the knowledge of him that took him for a sot. Neglecting to pray 3 Helping Pettit to make his water watch at 12 of the clock on Saturday night

[via Lists of Note]

Untitled List from the Fall of 1949, from Susan Sontag’s notebooks, collected in Reborn

effete noctambulus perfervid detumescence disheveled so alluring, so cerebral sodden intriguing corrupt dignity lotophagous elegiac Meleager disponibility pardine demotic Harriette Wilson garbure satura succulent competent intellectual vulgarity of Aldous Huxley Yellow Book preciousness secretive sturdy pedantry + lechery spleen ribaldry ilex Klaxon

[via Biblioklept]

Leonardo DaVinci’s list of his skills when applying for a job at the court of Ludovico Sforza in the early 1480s

My Most Illustrious Lord, Having now sufficiently seen and considered the achievements of all those who count themselves masters and artificers of instruments of war, and having noted that the invention and performance of the said instruments is in no way different from that in common usage, I shall endeavour, while intending no discredit to anyone else, to make myself understood to Your Excellency for the purpose of unfolding to you my secrets, and thereafter offering them at your complete disposal, and when the time is right bringing into effective operation all those things which are in part briefly listed below: 1. I have plans for very light, strong and easily portable bridges with which to pursue and, on some occasions, flee the enemy, and others, sturdy and indestructible either by fire or in battle, easy and convenient to lift and place in position. Also means of burning and destroying those of the enemy. 2. I know how, in the course of the siege of a terrain, to remove water from the moats and how to make an infinite number of bridges, mantlets and scaling ladders and other instruments necessary to such an enterprise. 3. Also, if one cannot, when besieging a terrain, proceed by bombardment either because of the height of the glacis or the strength of its situation and location, I have methods for destroying every fortress or other stranglehold unless it has been founded upon a rock or so forth. 4. I have also types of cannon, most convenient and easily portable, with which to hurl small stones almost like a hail-storm; and the smoke from the cannon will instil a great fear in the enemy on account of the grave damage and confusion. 5. Also, I have means of arriving at a designated spot through mines and secret winding passages constructed completely without noise, even if it should be necessary to pass underneath moats or any river. 6. Also, I will make covered vehicles, safe and unassailable, which will penetrate the enemy and their artillery, and there is no host of armed men so great that they would not break through it. And behind these the infantry will be able to follow, quite uninjured and unimpeded. 7. Also, should the need arise, I will make cannon, mortar and light ordnance of very beautiful and functional design that are quite out of the ordinary. 8. Where the use of cannon is impracticable, I will assemble catapults, mangonels, trebuckets and other instruments of wonderful efficiency not in general use. In short, as the variety of circumstances dictate, I will make an infinite number of items for attack and defence. 9. And should a sea battle be occasioned, I have examples of many instruments which are highly suitable either in attack or defence, and craft which will resist the fire of all the heaviest cannon and powder and smoke. 10. In time of peace I believe I can give as complete satisfaction as any other in the field of architecture, and the construction of both public and private buildings, and in conducting water from one place to another. Also I can execute sculpture in marble, bronze and clay. Likewise in painting, I can do everything possible as well as any other, whosoever he may be. Moreover, work could be undertaken on the bronze horse which will be to the immortal glory and eternal honour of the auspicious memory of His Lordship your father, and of the illustrious house of Sforza. And if any of the above-mentioned things seem impossible or impracticable to anyone, I am most readily disposed to demonstrate them in your park or in whatsoever place shall please Your Excellency, to whom I commend myself with all possible humility.

[via Letters of Note]

Woody Guthrie’s New Year’s Resolution List, 1942

Work more and better Work by a schedule Wash teeth if any Shave Take bath Eat good — fruit — vegetables — milk Drink very scant if any Write a song a day Wear clean clothes — look good Shine shoes Change socks Change bed cloths often Read lots good books Listen to radio a lot Learn people better Keep rancho clean Dont get lonesome Stay glad Keep hoping machine running Dream good Bank all extra money Save dough Have company but dont waste time Send Mary and kids money Play and sing good Dance better Help win war — beat fascism Love mama Love papa Love Pete Love everybody Make up your mind Wake up and fight

[via Brain Pickings]

Preston Sturges’s “eleven rules for box-office appeal”

A pretty girl is better than an ugly one. A leg is better than an arm. A bedroom is better than a living room. An arrival is better than a departure. A birth is better than a death. A chase is better than a chat. A dog is better than a landscape. A kitten is better than a dog. A baby is better than a kitten. A kiss is better than a baby. A pratfall is better than anything.

[via Lists of Note]

“List of Social Changes that Would Assist the Flourishing of Literary Beauty” by William T. Vollmann. Originally published in his essay, “Something to Die For.”

1. Abolish television, because it has no reverence for time. 2. Abolish the automobile, because it has no reverence for space. 3. Make citizenship contingent upon literacy in every sense. Thus, politicians who do not write every word of their own speeches should be thrown out of office in disgrace. Writers who require editors to make their books “good” should be depublished. 4. Teach reverence for all beauty, including that of the word.

[via Biblioklept]

Thelonious Monk’s list of good advice, 1960

T.MONK’S ADVICE (1960) JUST BECAUSE YOU’RE NOT A DRUMMER, DOESN’T MEAN YOU DON’T HAVE TO KEEP TIME. PAT YOUR FOOT & SING THE MELODY IN YOUR HEAD, WHEN YOU PLAY. STOP PLAYING ALL THOSE WEIRD NOTES (THAT BULLSHIT), PLAY THE MELODY! MAKE THE DRUMMER SOUND GOOD. DISCRIMINATION IS IMPORTANT. YOU’VE GOT TO DIG IT TO DIG IT, YOU DIG? ALL REET! ALWAYS KNOW… (MONK) IT MUST BE ALWAYS NIGHT, OTHERWISE THEY WOULDN’T NEED THE LIGHTS. LET’S LIFT THE BAND STAND!! I WANT TO AVOID THE HECKLERS. DON’T PLAY THE PIANO PART, I’M PLAYING THAT. DON’T LISTEN TO ME. I’M SUPPOSED TO BE ACCOMPANYING YOU! THE INSIDE OF THE TUNE (THE BRIDGE) IS THE PART THAT MAKES THE OUTSIDE SOUND GOOD. DON’T PLAY EVERYTHING (OR EVERY TIME); LET SOME THINGS GO BY. SOME MUSIC JUST IMAGINED. WHAT YOU DON’T PLAY CAN BE MORE IMPORTANT THAT WHAT YOU DO. ALWAYS LEAVE THEM WANTING MORE. A NOTE CAN BE SMALL AS A PIN OR AS BIG AS THE WORLD, IT DEPENDS ON YOUR IMAGINATION. STAY IN SHAPE! SOMETIMES A MUSICIAN WAITS FOR A GIG, & WHEN IT COMES, HE’S OUT OF SHAPE & CAN’T MAKE IT. WHEN YOU’RE SWINGING, SWING SOME MORE! (WHAT SHOULD WE WEAR TONIGHT? SHARP AS POSSIBLE!) DON’T SOUND ANYBODY FOR A GIG, JUST BE ON THE SCENE. THESE PIECES WERE WRITTEN SO AS TO HAVE SOMETHING TO PLAY, & TO GET CATS INTERESTED ENOUGH TO COME TO REHEARSAL. YOU’VE GOT IT! IF YOU DON’T WANT TO PLAY, TELL A JOKE OR DANCE, BUT IN ANY CASE, YOU GOT IT! (TO A DRUMMER WHO DIDN’T WANT TO SOLO). WHATEVER YOU THINK CAN’T BE DONE, SOMEBODY WILL COME ALONG & DO IT. A GENIUS IS THE ONE MOST LIKE HIMSELF. THEY TRIED TO GET ME TO HATE WHITE PEOPLE, BUT SOMEONE WOULD ALWAYS COME ALONG & SPOIL IT.

[via Lists of Note]

The entirety of Joe Brainard’s I Remember, a memoir in lists of memories. An excerpt:

I remember the first time I got a letter that said “After Five Days Return To” on the envelope, and I thought that after I had kept the letter for five days I was supposed to return it to the sender. I remember the kick I used to get going through my parents’ drawers looking for rubbers. (Peacock.) I remember when polio was the worst thing in the world. I remember pink dress shirts. And bola ties. I remember when a kid told me that those sour clover-like leaves we used to eat (with little yellow flowers) tasted so sour because dogs peed on them. I remember that didn’t stop me from eating them. I remember the first drawing I remember doing. It was of a bride with a very long train. I remember my first cigarette. It was a Kent. Up on a hill. In Tulsa, Oklahoma. With Ron Padgett. I remember by first erections. I thought I had some terrible disease or something. I remember the only time I ever saw my mother cry. I was eating apricot pie.