Completely Subjective – “A Good List” by Brad Leithauser

Famous poet, Brad Leithauser, wrote A Good List while lying awake in his bed in Iceland one evening. “A Good List” gives a humorous and lighthearted list of things Leithauser has “never done wrong” (Leithauser). His literal “good list” ranges from describing how he has never stolen any gnomes from a garden to his refusal to forge a lottery ticket.

At first I was curious as to why Leithauser was going into depth about his “good list.” However, it becomes clear by the end of the poem that he uses this list to distract and exhaust out his brain, when he cannot sleep at night. I found this to be kind of comical and very candid for a poet to write, as insomnia is something with which many people struggle; and they therefore can relate to his experiences in Iceland.

Leithauser, an insomniac, who has spent many years awake in the dark hours, has said there was no real background to this poem, but is merely a way to keep his mind occupied in a remote place during a snowstorm. He describes many of the actions in the poem as kind of crazy, and to this day smiles while reading it.

The laughable details are seen in each line of the five stanzas. In the first stanza, Leithauser expresses his insomnia and failure to sleep, which is why he begins his list. The list of things he has never done wrong extends and grows with every line until it reaches an eventual end when Leithauser boasts how he has “never borrowed a book I intended to keep.”

The last thing on his list is somewhat symbolic to the essence of Leithauser. It is obvious he values books and reading as he makes this the final line of his list in the poem. This leads me to believe that Leithauser’s good list describes things that are personal to him. Whether this is about borrowing books or attending family Christmas, he subtly and lightheartedly includes them in this list.

Ultimately, the rhyming five stanza-structured poem is truly playful and laughable. Leithauser, a prestigious and experienced poet, who has taught poetry for many years, took a different approach to this piece. He chose to create something relatable and funny for readers to stumble upon in the future.



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