29 January 2011
A few years ago, Northwest wordsmith Paul Nelson introduced me to
a poetic form by Alan Ginsberg: “American Sentences:”
a Haiku un-spooled; seventeen syllables laid out in a straight line.
What intrigues me is how this form lends itself to our way of speaking –
the same way Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter feels so natural.
Here are two examples from the past year, basically unedited:
1. WHY SAM DIDN’T WANT TO READ “DIARY OF A WIMPY KID”:
Because it’s too weird, and there’s a limit to weirdness even for me.
2. POSTED BY NOAH AS HIS FACEBOOK STATUS ONE DAY IN OCTOBER:
I dreamed last night that I peed in Santa’s shower DoubleYou-Tee-Eff?!
[Or, since I’m unclear about the protocols of transcribing text-speak…]
I had a dream last night that I peed in Santa’s shower What The F**k?!
I love writing these poems for many reasons: as an exercise
in brevity; as a way to quiet my Monkey Mind on long walks;
But best of all, on those despairing days I call “semi-colon days,”
it’s no small comfort being able to say, “At least I wrote something.”
(Masters of this form can make their point in one five-seven-five stanza;
I’m a novelist. I cheat. My sentences tend to require friends.
This is another reason to practice writing unraveled haikus:
Side-effects might include a third novel that weighs less than an anvil.)
I can write these poems (as I did today) while I'm running errands.
This one was produced between the time I swam laps and went food shopping:
A GIRL FROM THE GERMAN-RUSSIAN BOTTOMS ENDS UP MARRIED TO A GREEK
My mother asked the Orthodox priest to bless the house when they moved in;
she kept the leftover Holy Water stored in a Klaussen's pickle jar.
I write these in the Subaru waiting for my son's school to let out.
I write them while I'm cooking; in the middle of phone conversations.
I'm writing one this very moment, while I'm finishing this essay.
Here's the point: I've found no better way to feel like a writer all day.
This practice gives me a way to keep the artistic juices flowing
when I am called by necessity and choice to leave my writing desk
and venture forth in the real bread-and-butter world we all must live in.
On the down side, I find myself frequently tapping. (Five. Seven. Five.)
My kids have caught me doing this and they're starting to look suspicious.
Poor guys. As if their middle-aged writer/mother isn't weird enough.
Now she's developed a form of obsessive compulsive behavior
that makes her look like she's playing Bach Inventions on her upper chest.
You'll note I'm not a purist; I'm not sure Mr. Ginsberg would approve
of the ways I riff on this poetic form to suit my purposes.
My American Sentences often are not sentences at all:
a blurt here, a run-on there, so many ways to break up seventeen.
I like to think he'd be okay with it; after all, it's word play.
I've decided to write at least one of these sentences every day.
I'll post some of them here; my hope is that you will try writing your own.
(Be sure to keep a notepad and pencil readily available.
You'll find inspiration for American Sentences everywhere.)