Monday, November 14, 2011

Naming Lists as poems

I use lists in my poems a lot. Not Top 10 lists or shopping lists, but lists that illuminate the complexity and beauty of the world. Nothing illustrates the unknowable diversity of knowledge and sets the imagination flowing so succinctly as a list. Here is a section of my poem A Butterfly Hunt

So
we go in search of butterflies!
the rose-tinged sulphurs, the coppers,
the skipperlings and cattleheart,
the sisters galloping over the stream beds,
the Parnassus of the alpine
the whites, the blues, the mimics and thrill
of the unnameably gentle sun
lifting each aloft on its fingertips.



Lately, I've been interested in "naming lists," which shed all pretense of the poet's wisdom and context. Naming lists can't rightly be called poetry at all, in my opinion. However, they are a fascinating method for understanding the world. Not just the diversity of what can be named, but what we as humans decide to name. Lists are a layman's window into specialized knowledge. Lists open your eyes to worlds perviously unknown. Imagine my delight when, after creating a list of citrus, I inadvertently discovered a ripe Buddha's Hand hanging like a sea anemone from a surprisingly tiny branch while wandering in Orlando's Leu Gardens. I had walked that path many time before without noticing. There is something about learning of something's existence that makes it appear in our lives. You look up an odd word in the dictionary and suddenly you see it everywhere.

Who invented these names? Why did they choose a name in particular? I suspect behind every name lies a story, sometimes technical, sometimes soaked with passion or sorrow. Some names seem to exist for the pure joy of being named. Ultimately, lists ask many more questions than they answer.

Here are some lists I've made recently. All the names are real 'common names' used for specific species.


Moths
Inconsolable Underwing
Intractable Quaker
Slowpoke
Black Witch
The Half-Wing
The Bad-Wing
The Sweetheart
The Betrothed
The Bride
The Old Maid
The Little Beggar
The Neighbor
The Laugher
Grateful Midget
The Confederate
The Scribbler
Tissue Moth
Chalky Wave
Three-Spotted Fillip
Small Necklace
The Gem
Pistachio Emerald
Ruby Tiger
Purple Plagodis
Blackberry Looper
Blurry Chocolate Angle
Long-horned Owlet
Moon-lined Moth
Horrid Zale
Honest Pero
Dappled Dart
Fluid Arches
Shy Cosmet
Delightful Dagger






Citrus
Navel
Seedless Navel
Valencia
Kumquat
Madarin
Lue Gim Gong
Parson Brown
Blood
Sour
Corniculata
Temple
Buddha’s Hand
Tangerine
Tangelo
Minneola
Ruby
Marsh Pink
Jaffa Sunrise
Snow
Rough
Eureka
Lemonange
Winged
Sweet Mary Ellen
Key
Kaffir
Humpty Doo
Ugly



Minerals

tuff, tufa, chalk
sard, talc, chert
flint, gneiss, salt
glaucodot
orpiment
chalcedony
chrysoprase
chrysocholla
lead, arsenic, uranium
aquamarine
beryl, spinel
The Silicates: rock crystal, amethyst, smoky, citrine, rose hogg, phantom
The Corundums: ruby, sapphire
The Fluorites: Rogerley, Blue John, Glory Hole
Sleeping Beauty turquoise
Iceland spar
olivine
pumpkinite
watermelon
moonstone
sunstone
bloodstone
Habits: geode, fibrous, concentric, radiating, massive, prismatic, straw, botryoidal
Fractures: conchoidal, hackly, uneven, splintery
Effects: Schiller, Widmanstatten, fluorescent
Sizes: monolithic, boulder, cobble, nodule, pebble, grain, dust






Cattle

Holstein
Jersey
Guernsey
Kerry
Cracker
Pineywoods
Moiled
Blonde d’Aquitaine
Lingo
Balancer
Glan
Tux
Blaarkop
Baldy
Salorn
Krishna
Anatolian Red
Jamaica Red
Square Meater
Beefalo
Hays Converter
Speckle Park
Tuli
Heck





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