In a forest, or: Essence

An American sentence:

If a poem is never heard or seen by anyone, is it art?


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!

51 thoughts on “In a forest, or: Essence”

  1. The answer may have something to do with the poet’s purpose in writing. If the purpose is to share a message, to make money, or to gain recognition, obviously it is important that the poem be read. If it is a way to process private ideas and feelings, it is still a poem, just not one intended for public consumption.

    What is art? To me, art is an expression that transcends reality and engages the heart, intellect, and imagination.

  2. If you define art only by public reach, it means limiting the definition of art only to a) art that is well-marketed/ commercially successful (eg. sometimes referred to as “sold out” although I don’t care for this concept) and b) art produced by people willing and able to make their art public without necessarily getting commercial success because they aren’t reliant on it to earn an income (eg. people rich enough to do art as a hobby). So, I would say that the definition of art is not dependent on public reach.
    As for a personal example and switching gears somewhat, I have written two poems that I think are quite good, but that I will never share. Reason being because given the subject matter, it would be irresponsible to share them to a wider audience without a trigger warning, and yet, I refuse on principle to put trigger warnings on my poetry. Thus, I have made the decision not to share them. This doesn’t mean that they are not poems.

      1. Personally, I think it ruins the poem, so it’s not something I’m willing to do on my own poetry. But I also appreciate it is irresponsible to share these particular poems widely without trigger warnings, so the decision I’ve made is not to share these.

          1. For these pieces, without a trigger warning, there’s an unexpected twist that although dark and disturbing, I think works well aesthetically. With a trigger warning at the top, it loses the twist and the impact.

            I have no problem putting trigger/content warnings on general blog posts that necessitate them. It is absolutely not my goal to cause people pain. But I think putting these warnings compromise the poem too much in this case; I’d rather just not share the poem widely than share it in such a way that’s compromised, from my perspective.

  3. ‘does the author’s intention define reality?’ you say David. That takes me back to my previous thought: Firstly if you bring in ‘intention’ to support your case, then it is pretty poor art anyway – and then if it is Life’s intention for you make stumbling attempts at getting to something new – then there is no definition.
    Thinking of the Aspergic Prof’s blog post/poem ‘we are artists, life is our medium’ –
    Thinking of an isolated prisoner who has been given pen and pad by a stroke of luck. If they keep writing, they’ll eventually break through to something original.
    Thinking of Thomas Merton who as a young lost man, became a Trappist monk, strict contemplative order, RC and very unusually was allowed to keep writing. Some 30 years later he has a conversion experience on a street corner (more of that later), not in church. And he writes to a feminist theologian: did I mixed up in a great cheat? – His writing had become to define him. (That’s away from your question because he was published, but still writing under those restrictive pre-Vatican II conditions…). Now back to the day job. Thanks for asking.

    1. … if you bring in ‘intention’ to support your case, then it is pretty poor art anyway…

      I’m not sure that I agree with that, Barbara… for a number of reasons. First of all, artists have intentions – they don’t simply produce art that doesn’t mean anything to them (assuming they haven’t sold out for money).

      Secondly, for me, the question actually hinges on this because there are at least 3 possibilities (or some combination thereof), which are:

      1) Art is art because of the artist’s perceptions (/intentions);
      2) Art is art because of the audience’s perception;
      3) Art is art because that is its essence.

      (if you can think of other possibilities, I’d be curious to know.)

      So… from my perspective, given that the artist him/herself is one of three entities that could potentially be the one to imbue art with its essence as art… I’d say that’s worthy of taking seriously and considering.

      1. thanks for replying David. I don’t disagree with any of your list. Only think it is secondary stuff. Or at least I would put Andrew Basden’s definition on there as a 4th item on your list somehow.
        PS as for your American Sentences – I’d say you give examples of what for me are preliminary exercises and as such contain a high dose of intention. Insofar as you define them as art – you make your own case as above, as well as mine. No argument about that. P.P.S. I would not call my haibun and haiku-like stuff art, I would hope thought that life or:Life came through a bit for the reader… Creative Nonfiction. Best -,

  4. I think that although the poem may exist, it has been recorded somewhere, for it to become art it requires an audience. I believe if someone creates something and calls it art, it is art. But then the ‘viewer’ can make the subjective decision on whether they think it is good or bad art. A good question to get me thinking and my brain into action!

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