The modern poet, or: Slave

An American sentence:

Busy blogging, I must not forget to post poems on Twitter too.


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 “The modern poet, or: Slave”

  1. I’ll tell you what, Ben, there’s a lot to be said about this. Even the form is its own satire. Having to bend words and do work in the modern prescriptions is hard for me. Like, this particular form doesn’t seem to be a good replacement for Haiku. But, the fact that some guy now said “Haikus” were bad, people will believe it, and all my Haikus mean nothing.

    There’s some meta stuff going on here. Definitely. Like, I see it. Maybe you didn’t intend it, but Americans seem to be a slave to stupid forms, rather than the traditional ones. Which, you said eloquently by quoting the writer on Twitter.

    Shalom.

    1. ❤ Brandon ❤

      Thanks so much for sharing your perspective!

      Personally, I don't see it as a competition between haikus and American Sentences – I still write haikus, but I find that American Sentences work better for me most of the time. Also, to be fair, I don't think Allen Ginsberg was just "some guy" … I give him more credit than that, personally.

      What, in your mind, is a "stupid" form? And why are "traditional" forms not stupid? Those distinctions are hard for me to grasp.

      BTW, please feel free to call me ‘David’ – that’s my first name. ‘ben’ simply means ‘son of’ in Hebrew, and my father’s name was ‘Alexander’… I created this blog in his memory, and hence the pen name – which is confusing, I know! I’m sorry about that 🙂

      Take Care,
      David

      1. Thanks David.

        It’s like anything else. Rigid rules aren’t adequate for art.

        I guess the “American Sentence” has become the status quo. If you can’t write an American Sentence, then you’re not deemed worthy to be published.

        Understand I’m using it as an analogy.

        I actually wrote a poem about it. I wrote four American Sentences in an AA/BB Rhyme scheme. Each American Sentence comprised a line of my poem.

        The thing that irks me, is that it is a competition. We can say it’s not, but whenever some intellectual prescribes a rule for writing—such as censuring helper verbs, or Mary Sues, or Purple Prose, etc.. in this case saying Haikus can’t be done in English—it creates a siphon effect where it disregards all the literary exceptions.

        And with that, it creates expectations and stupid rules for writing, which the only rule for writing ought to be to have something to say.

        Brandon

        1. Brandon, this is really interesting to me.

          Rigid rules aren’t adequate for art.

          That would be true of the American Sentence and haiku both, right?

          I guess the “American Sentence” has become the status quo. If you can’t write an American Sentence, then you’re not deemed worthy to be published.

          Really?? I’ve never been published, but my impression is that haiku are much more mainstream than American Sentences… am I totally wrong about that?

          I actually wrote a poem about it. I wrote four American Sentences in an AA/BB Rhyme scheme. Each American Sentence comprised a line of my poem.

          I had fun with American Sentences too! I invented something called the American Paragraph:

          The worse it seemed to get…

          The thing that irks me, is that it is a competition. We can say it’s not, but whenever some intellectual prescribes a rule for writing…

          Honestly, I have never, ever thought about forms competing with one another – I just indiscriminately go through them, picking out new ones that seem fun & challenging to me – for some reason, the American Sentence really feels comfortable to me, but I’ve tried a lot of forms, both older and newer, with no thought to “competition” or which are “better”… I just assume that they all suit different poets and messages.

          And with that, it creates expectations and stupid rules for writing, which the only rule for writing ought to be to have something to say.

          The reason I have some difficulty with this is that we’ve had forms for hundreds of years, right? So are you saying that older forms (like Shakespeare’s sonnets, for example) are based on stupid rules? It seems to me that they can be very beautiful… It’s only been relatively recently in history that free verse became king – most older poetry was written in one form or another… no?


          David

          1. Lol. You misunderstand what I mean. Haiku and American Sentences are fine Otherwise I wouldn’t have written them. I’d say I’d be quite a hypocrite if that’s what I was saying.

            It’s precisely that Free Verse is King. That’s what I’m criticizing. Poetry ought to be freed from rigid standards of any kind. Because people have to make a living.

          2. It’s like, if Haikus were the only acceptable form, then Sonnets wouldn’t get published. I’m not criticizing the “American Sentence”, but in a way I’m criticizing the “American Sentence” only in what the author of it said, that Haikus can’t be done in English. That assumption that a Haiku can’t be done in English, which is a stupid prescription and pretension of a particular poet, in this case a Beat Poet. Anything like that.

          3. That’s totally fair! I’m less interested in his critique and more interested in whether or not his form works for me, which – it does 😀

          4. Yes. Exactly. Forms, to me, are a lot of fun to experiment with. I wrote an entire 2400 line epic poem on American History in eight syllable meter, and a 2/3/5/2 slant rhyme scheme per stanza. However, under the current standard, I would be better off writing free verse poems about how sad I am in the most simple and cliche language imaginable. That’s what I’m really talking about. There’s no reason I shouldn’t be published. Or you for that matter.

          5. wow… I… 2,400?!
            how long did that take you, friend? I can barely fathom that project. not to mention – you must really love history! 😀


            David

          6. I love poetry. It took me about a year. And I have another 8,600 lines to do over the rest of my life. It’s not finished. Only book 1. I’m planning on doing the entire history of America. Right now I have up to the Revolutionary War.

            Thanks.

          7. Thanks. I think that’s what the Beatniks were about, actually. I once described myself as a Beat Poet in my first novel. Because I broke standards and conventions.

          8. I have the whole plot of history mapped out. I’m not entirely sure how I’m going to do it, but the last book I did came out so perfect, that it seems to be the right thing to do.

      2. I know you’re a skeptic, but as I write there’s a little still voice in my head, like our conscience, that gives me the words to use. I can’t explain it, but it’s always been there. It’s why I know I’m supposed to be a writer.

    1. Yeah; and how do people manage so many media channels at once? I’ve been struggling to keep up with just one… and now just two – and that’s a real challenge!

  2. Hi David, I have been exploring this type of format lately. I find it very fun to play around with the word choice. I also just started using Twitter on a regular basis. I’ll find you over there.

    1. ❤ Mark ❤

      I only became active on Twitter at the start of this year (and I'm not even so active there)… before that I was only posting a single poem daily on my Twitter account… but I'm trying to engage with it more, at the recommendation of some fellow poets 🙂

      Shabbat shalom,
      David

      1. I have also just started using Twitter on a regular basis. At first it was really overwhelming, but I think I am getting the hang of it.

  3. I always loved reading poetry using the American Sentence just because of both its freedom and restrictions! I never tried it myself, I won’t dare to–at least, for the time being.

    And about your American Sentence, it do happen like that. One must not forget to tweet on twit.

    Okay, I seriously don’t know why I said it like that, but it sounded a lot funnier in my head. I think my dad’s humor is rubbing off on me.

  4. David, have you thought that the quote from Allan G might have been just a moment of laziness in his effing mind? He taught haiku for crying out loud. 😎

  5. Wow. Remarkable. I am learning different aspects of Poems in English through your blogs. I love your blogs. Thank you so much for the interesting information.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s