"Ode to Gray" Dorianne Laux

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Bringing Color to Your List Poem

Although Dorianne Laux’s poem, “Ode to Gray,” is dedicated to Sharon Olds, for poets it stands as a unique type of list poem, a more challenging one. What Laux did was what any of us could do, and though the concept is a simple one, the execution is another matter.

What you do is start with a color, any color, and then write a poem consisting of words or phrases that match the color. Of course, the order is up to your organizing spirit, as are the stanzas.

Here’s what Laux came up with when she launched with the seemingly-drab color, gray.

Ode to Gray by Dorianne Laux


Mourning dove. Goose. Catbird. Butcher bird. Heron.
A child’s plush stuffed rabbit. Buckets. Chains.

Silver. Slate. Steel. Thistle. Tin.
Old man. Old woman.
The new screen door.

A squadron of Mirage F-1’s dogfighting
above ground fog. Sprites. Smoke.
“Snapshot gray” circa 1952.

Foxes. Rats. Nails. Wolves. River stones. Whales.
Brains. Newspapers. The backs of dead hands.

The sky over the ocean just before the clouds
let down their rain.

Rain.

The seas just before the clouds
let down their nets of rain.

Angelfish. Hooks. Hummingbird nests.
Teak wood. Seal whiskers. Silos. Railroad ties.

Mushrooms. Dray horses. Sage. Clay. Driftwood.
Crayfish in a stainless steel bowl.

The eyes of a certain girl.

Grain.

You might wonder how some of the things in the list are actually gray (foxes? Angelfish? sage?), but I suppose, in certain states or parts, all qualify.

More mind-boggling is how many items Laux came up with and got across with specific nouns. By my count, 47.

And poetic items still play a role. Note examples of alliteration (“Silver. Slate. Steel. Thistle. Tin.”) for instance, and repetition (“Old man. Old woman.”)

Using the world at large, both natural and man-made, you can play this game, too, starting with your color and your list. See if you can reach 30 items, and then push yourself further.

Finally, bring some art to the arrangement, and just like that, you have a Neruda-like ode to the tune of “Color My World” by Chicago.

Good luck.