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Exercise Wednesday: The Litany

May 22, 2013

by Peggy Miller

Beyond the religious definition, a litany is a recitation using a repeated phrase, and can indeed be a poem.  Write a litany whose repetition is “I believe” or ” Tonight I will”  or “I am” or “It happens like…”  This is not to be a poem of your religious beliefs.  Rather make statements like “I believe in the skitter of my brain in every direction at once.”  A litany can be poem of human nature: this is an opportunity to be especially imaginative.

One thing that makes a litany pleasant to read is variation.  For example, you need not say exactly “I believe” every time.  You might say ‘I trust, or I hold to, or I follow,’ etc.  You might also make a pleasant jumble of various content in your poem, a sequence that surprises.  Another variation is the length of the statement that follows.  So for instance,

“I believe in stone.
I thank the rain for apples which
upon their ripening, if unpicked too long
throw themselves to the ground in request.”  pm

Maxine Kumin’s litany in this vein is “Credo” from Looking for Luck.

This week’s exercise is to write a poem that includes the elements of a litany.


Peggy Miller, an editor with The Comstock Review, has an MFA from American University. She has conducted poetry workshops for over 15 years. Her collections include What the Blood Knows was published in 2007 and Stone Being in 2009, both from Custom Words. Peggy has published a chapbook, Martha Contemplates the Universe, Frith Press, and a Greatest Hits chapbook from Pudding House. Visit her on Facebook.


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