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American Sentences

As we go into Poetry Month, I want to share a little about a form that is new to me: American Sentences -- a North American version of the Japanese haiku. These are one line poems that consist of seventeen syllables.

The form was invented by Allen Ginsberg in the 1990s and has been picked up by Seattle poet Paul E. Nelson. One critic (poet John Olson) wrote of the form:

“Emphasis is on the image, rather than rhetoric, or lyricism. Unlike the haiku, however, which is a highly bastardized form in English, they’re more suited to the American idiom & so allow a greater range of natural expression. They don’t have the aesthetic stiffness of the haiku as they are practiced in English.

A couple of examples:

The first one by Ginsberg --
November 1991, New York

Put on my tie in a taxi, short of breath, rushing to meditate.

One by Nelson describing a short-lived relationship --

2.09.01 — One small spat & you reconstruct front room into bedroom-in-exile.

Nelson's book is American Sentences: Compendium of American Haiku Released.