Peter Miller

Ten Commandments, 613 Laws, Six Million: What is it with Jews and Lists?

Earlier today I came across a listing for an upcoming reading in Bryant Park with the poet Wayne Koestenbaum. (July 6, 7 p.m. Free.) He's a local New York treasure--a CUNY Graduate Center English professor--and not in the least peevish about his Jewishness.  "Best-Selling Jewish Porn Films" is the title of one of his better known collections.

Koestenbaum's poems tend toward the ribald and profane, both wickedly funny and equally smart. You can find some of the poems in "Jewish Porn" online, and one in particular, "John Wayne's Perfume," got me thinking about our timeless fascination with lists.  Among poets, it's something of an in-house game to make list-poems, and "John Wayne's Pefume" certainly plays it well. Koestenbaum structures this particular list poem around seven stanzas, each three lines deep. The length of the lines within each stanza diminish as the list unfolds, giving the poem a comfortable rhythm.

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