June 18, 2021

Mini-Prompt: American Sentences

allen ginsberg
Ginsberg  via Flickr

If you're looking for some more inspiration this month, I always suggest taking a look at Paull Szlosek's Poetry Playground blog. There are many forms and examples, both traditional and invented forms.

One of those is the American Sentence, a poetry form that was invented by Allen Ginsberg and popularized by Paul E. Nelson as a variation on traditional haiku. 

American Sentences also consist of 17 syllables, but the 3-line format and 5-7-5 breaks are dropped. The 17 syllables are written as a single line or sentence. They may have a title. 

Is it one complete grammatical sentence? Sometimes, but feel free to do several short sentences or even phrases., while others have written them as two, three, or four or even just as series of phrases. 

There are some other slightly haiku-ish conderations. Nelson feels they should focus on concrete images. Ginsberg said you should mention either a time or place (or both) and the use of articles such as “a” and “the” should be avoided. But neither adhered to their own suggestions all the time.

I have also seen poets write multi-line poems composed entirely of American Sentences which gives the poem a kind of Japanese-American "meter."

Here are four of the original American Sentences by Ginsberg:

Nov 1991 N.Y.
Put my tie on in a taxi, short of breath, rushing to meditate
Tompkins Square Lower East Side N.Y.
Four skinheads stand in the streetlight rain chatting under an umbrella

On Hearing the Muezzin Cry Allah Akbar While Visiting the Pythian Oracle at Didyma Toward the End of the Second Millennium
At sunset Apollo’s columns echo with the bawl of the One God

Approaching Seoul by Bus in Heavy Rain
Get used to your body, forget you were born, suddenly you got to get out!

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