the tink files   [subscribe in a reader]

The American Sentence Project

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.)