Thursday, September 11, 2008

American Sentences

I ran across this exercise on the Poets Online blog, which is one of the many brainchildren of Ken Ronkowitz, on of my favorite edubloggers. Ken explains that the idea originated with Allen Ginsburg, who conceived of writing what he wanted to call "American Sentences," which would be the hang-loose, vernacular American version of haiku. The only formal restriction is that each sequence should be a stand-alone poem of 17 syllables. Seemed like a low-stress exercise that had the potential to be interesting. In a classroom it might serve to introduce students to the virtues of verbal economy. How much work can you get done in 17 syllables?

What I noticed in trying the exercise out is how the very nature of the exercise asks you to pay a different kind of attention to what you have written. There's a lot of counting and adjustment and recounting that goes on. Here are a few of my own:

Prairie highway: bleached abandoned houses, roofs caved in, shutters askew.

Outside the classroom door, students mill and swirl, bodies pressed in passing.

Rainy morning: orange flower petals strewn across the glistening bricks.


Poets Online said...

thanks for the kind words - please leave your sentences on the site to add to our little collection - nice photo illustration too

Bruce Schauble said...

Thanks... I actually took the photo just as I was approaching my office on the day I did the exercise, and so, as I think should be obvious, it links to the third poem. What is less obvious is that it also links, at least in my mind, to a (more interesting) picture that you yourself posted on Serendipity 35 on August 27. When I went to push the shutter button and the kid started walking through the picture, one of the reasons that I decided to keep his feet in there was because I had seen and somehow registered the way you framed your own bricks and legs picture a couple weeks earlier. I'd put the hotlink in if I had the technical chops to know how to do that, but for any readers desperate enough for something to do that they might have drilled down this far and still have enough interest left to want to track it down, it can be seen at

- Bruce

Paradelle said...

Your photo makes me think of a monk running out of the rain at a zendo...
and of Ezra Pound's

In a Station of the Metro

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

(though I would at a loss to fully explain those two thoughts)

Here's the photo on Flickr