This is a website created to present and foster a poetic form created by Allen Ginsberg and known as American Sentences. (More details are in my 2005 essay.) They are haiku-length poems that Allen suggested be limited to 17 syllables, like haiku in Japanese and like the mantra at the end of the Heart Sutra in Buddhism: Gate, gate, paragate, parasamgate, bodhi svaha.

I first became aware of the form when I read Cosmpolitan Greetings, Allen’s 1994 book. I had the honor of interviewing him for that book. (See this for excerpts from the June 1994 interview with Allen.)

It took until 2001 before I was able to really investigate this form at the prompting of Anne Waldman and Andrew Schelling who presented that, along with some of Allen’s other poetics, at the Northwest SPokenword LAB in April of that year. (Hear Anne and Andrew talk about American Sentences and see John Olson’s comments about Paul’s sentences.)

I have written one of these sentences every day since January 1, 2001. (Sentence highlights from 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012  & 2013). I find it an amazing way to sharpen my perception and learn how to eliminate unnecessary syllables. It aids in a sort of pre-editing that supports my spontaneous writing practice.

It is my hope that others will take on this form and use it as a mode of deepening their consciousness or simply for kicks. (For those teaching this form, there is a pdf of my American Sentences handout here.)


18 Responses to American Sentences

  1. Jenny Angyal says:

    Thanks for all the great information on American Sentences!

    crossing waves in a seventeen-syllable boat the spray of water

  2. [...] the form called the american sentence.  17 syllables, haiku-like, ginsberg-inspired. find out more here. the first line is an american sentence, based on a shooting that happened outside my workplace as [...]

    • Paul Nelson says:

      Well, what you have here reads like a headline. Poetry requires a little more than a count of syllables. What was vivid about the event? That could lead to the poetry of it. Good luck and thanks for your interest in American Sentences. Paul

  3. Barbara Zimmerman says:

    I came across this website and now I’m obsessed with writing my thoughts in 17 syllables. For instance, upon the death of my dearest bff: My friend Elaine died last week. She took all of my dark secrets with her.

    How strange is that?

  4. Cathryn Shea says:

    The ice cream shop is closed during snow storms and I must eat clam chowder.

  5. Cathryn Shea says:

    Ek cetera is OK because Latin is so dead anyway.

  6. Cathryn Shea says:

    I found you through Kim Addonizio… I love what you are doing. I’ve had a bad case of writer’s block and this really helps!

  7. Splabman says:

    Bless Kim. Be sure to keep the poems concrete. Go for the luminous details. See:

    1.10.13 – Every ninth or tenth raindrop comes down masquerading as a snowflake.

  8. Cathryn Shea says:

    In my effort to keep going through writer’s block…

    I took a wrong turn on Route 66 and wound up where I came from.

    Hmmm… a bit dorky, but at least it’s an effort!

  9. Judy F says:

    I don’t have writers block of have spelling So much to say but, trying to make it interesting the the biggest obstacle.

  10. [...] also a great collection of modern and contemporary haiku and senryu written in English. Paul E. Nelson has also written an American sentence every day since [...]

  11. Walker Storz says:

    My arms had ball-bearing auras and I walked through dissipating haze.

  12. […] write about anything, not just nature. I found some interesting websites about American Sentences, most notably this one by Paul Nelson which really inspired my to do this more often. This is my very first attempt, and it wasn’t […]

  13. Kim G says:

    Once while I lay sleeping you whispered “there’s a bear outside of our tent”.

    I’ve never written an American sentence before, nor am I a writer, but I think this is fun.

  14. […] and set to a rhythm that sings.” This form, invented by poet Allen Ginsberg and featured at, is a single sentence of seventeen […]

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