To life, or: L’chayim*

An American sentence:

When writing ‘American Sentences’, sometimes I get carried a-way.


In Hebrew, ‘l’chayim’ means ‘to life’, and the numerical value of ‘live’ is ’18’ (all letters of the Hebrew alphabet correspond to numbers).

What’s an ‘American Sentence’?

Allen Ginsberg, inventor of the American Sentence, felt that the haiku didn’t work as well in English. Ginsberg decided to remove the line structure of the haiku, maintaining the requirement of 17 syllables total. He felt that removing the line count freed the American Sentence up for the idiosyncrasies of English phonemes.

The requirements:

  1. Composed in one line;
  2. Syllabic, 17 syllables;
  3. Condensed, written with no unnecessary words or articles;
  4. Complete sentence or sentences;
  5. Includes a turn or enlightenment.

Let’s write poetry together!

When it comes to partnership, some humans can make their lives alone – it’s possible. But creatively, it’s more like painting: you can’t just use the same colours in every painting. It’s just not an option. You can’t take the same photograph every time and live with art forms with no differences.

Ben Harper (b. 1969)

Would you like to create poetry with me and have a completed poem of yours featured here at the Skeptic’s Kaddish? I am very excited to have launched the ‘Poetry Partners’ initiative and am looking forward to meeting and creating with you… Check it out!

27 thoughts on “To life, or: L’chayim*”

  1. Greetings Ben, I may take you up.on your offer, or “challenge,” to write a poem for your contest.  Is it a “contest,” or “festival,” or “poetry writing show,” or “workshop?” Any way, remind me of the “deadline” if there is any “deadline.”  Like so many people, I am motivated by deadlines. I’ll write a poem now: “Nor wind, nor rain, now sunnd day,Can make my good mood go away,As hard as life tries to throw me down,Nothing will ever make me frown. When the rain comes from above,It give life to flowers that I love,When it gets cold and fridgid out,Why should I cry, rant, and pout.

    Just remember what the Good Lord said:If you got lemons, just make lemonade.Now it’s time for me to go,Never miss a day to learn and grow.” Peter Romersa

    Sent from the all new AOL app for Android

    1. Hi, HG!

      😁 It’s not a challenge, nor a contest, nor a festival, nor a poetry writing show, nor a workshop! It’s simply my reaching out to other poets, offering to collaborate with them and feature their poems on my blog. There are no deadlines; I will be selecting one poem every week, which has been submitted to me, and writing a poem of my own in response to it. Then I will post both poems together at the end of the week. If you would like to submit a poem, you may do so using the form on this page:

      Also, please feel free to call me ‘David’, which is my first name. The word ‘ben’ in Hebrew means ‘son of’ so my pen name means ‘son of Alexander’ because I created this blog in memory of my father. I know that’s confusing for English speakers – I’m really sorry about that!

      I look forward to your poetry submission!

      All best ❤

  2. me thinks, Allen Ginsberg was plain wrong on this. Blythe was around during Ginsberg’s life time so he, Ginsberg, could have known better. (Blythe was one of the pioneers translating haiku into English if I remember).

      1. fair enough, David. You are talking of the value judgment – i.e. you like, even love the form EG has created. Fair enough. I am only talking about the judgment of fact that led AG to develop the form. Apples and pears, those judgments. Btw, AG’s judgment of fact, that haiku did not fit with the English language (or vice versa)

  3. The comments have been (sorry to say) more interesting than the posted poem… I am all for the American Sentence but find a well done Haiku with it’s turn on the last line to be a marvelous thing…

  4. who’d have thought it – even Kabbalistic numerology might make sense one day? (I was a RC for 17 years before beyond-Self catapulted me out , thank goodness) 😎

          1. for a time I was hoping to be formally a Carmelite nun – but now I am shaking my head at that even, given the religious business and busyness; but I miss some formalised space/time for contemplation.

    1. It’s not Kabbalistic, BTW – it’s basic Hebrew. In Israel, each grade in school is labeled with its corresponding letter, rather than number. So – “first” grade is called “aleph” and “second” grade is called “bet”, etc., etc.

      1. David, – I din’t say it was kabbalistic – pointing to some unknown point in the future I said and meant even numerology might make sense… – Best ,

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