Cascadia Poetics LAB logo


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.)