American Sentences

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.) The long-awaited book of the best of these poems has been published by Apprentice House. 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. (Read Greg Bem’s review of the book here. Michael Dylan Welch reviewed the book here.)

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. 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.)

19 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. 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?

  3. Cathryn Shea says:

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

  4. Cathryn Shea says:

    Ek cetera is OK because Latin is so dead anyway.

  5. 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!

  6. 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.

  7. 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!

  8. 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.

  9. Walker Storz says:

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

  10. 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.

  11. seingraham says:

    Thanks for these notes Paul…an interesting form that I still don’t have much of a handle one, but continue to experiment with…

    Neighbours fell their healthy old Maple; from my window, face wet, I weep.

  12. Jerry Bolick says:

    Paul, I’m new to your site and your work–really enjoy hanging out with it/you…

    A handful of American sentences:

    Deeply felt contentment spreads undirected and without being asked.


    From the airport to the south, planes lift soundless airborne headlights, glaring.


    Just south of east, darkness dreams of dawn—shouldered glow or the faintest sigh?


    Horizon returns salmon-toned under an already bluing sky.


    Freeway traffic, distant, latent companion emerges with the light.


    And though we rise and act as if we do, our prayers admit we do not.

    • Splabman says:

      Jerry, glad you are having fun. Now try to make your sentences speak for themselves in images. See if you can avoid descriptive language/adjectives. Good luck!

  13. Shane Keene says:

    Fire Season 8/20/15
    Pine scented smoke descending, green trees draped in tired lace, flaring blossoms.

  14. Pingback: Ordinary Genius: Entering Poetry |

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