September 8, 2008

American Sentences

American Sentences as a poetic form was Allen Ginsberg's effort to make American the haiku. If haiku is seventeen syllables going down in Japanese text, he would make American Sentences seventeen syllables going across, linear, like just about everything else in America.

In Cosmopolitan Greetings, his 1994 book, he published two and a half pages of these nuggets, some of which had scene-setting preambles. For example:

Four skinheads stand in the streetlight rain chatting under an umbrella.

Rainy night on Union square, full moon. Want more poems? Wait till
I'm dead. is a site to present and foster this poetic form of haiku-length poems that Allen suggested be limited to 17 syllables, like haiku in Japanese and like the Heart Sutra in Buddhism.

It's not really a writing prompt, but feel free to post your efforts in the comments below.

The website is done by Paul Everett Nelson. He is self-descibed as a poet, father, teacher and broadcaster, and founder of the non-profit Global Voices Radio and co-founder of the Northwest SPokenword LAB (SPLAB!).

Paul says:
I have written one of these sentences every day since January 1, 2001. I find it
an amazing way to sharpen my perception and learn how to eliminate unnecessary
syllables. It aids in a sort of pre-editing that supports my spontaneous writing


  1. moss covered stone fence surrounds the stagnent lily pond, september fog

  2. Never impromptu
    in pure Japanese garden:
    now is always planned.


  3. Prairie highway: bleached abandoned houses, roofs caved in, shutters askew.

    Outside the classroom door, students mill and swirl, bodies pressed in passing.

    Rainy morning: orange flower petals strewn across the glistening bricks.

  4. Not an empty blue sky, unless you continue to ignore the moon.

    Stone cellar protects cold roots from coaxing warmth - no seduction, no bloom.

    Turning prayer wheel, screech across frozen pond shocks birds from meditation.


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