Old 01-10-2014, 07:11 PM   #1
Tzara
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American Sentences

An "American Sentence" is a poetic form invented by Allen Ginsberg that is intended to be something like an Americanized haiku. Rather than a short three-line poem broken into five, seven, and five syllables (really quite a different thing in Japanese), Ginsberg created a form that is also seventeen syllables in length, but in the form of a single, horizontally formatted sentence. The form first appears in his collection Cosmopolitan Greetings (1994). Some of the poems have titles, like this one, the earliest composed (1987) of those in the book:
Tompkins Square Lower East Side N.Y.
Four skinheads stand in the streetlight rain chatting under an umbrella.
Most of the poems Ginsberg prints in Cosmopolitan Greetings have no title, and are comprised of a single seventeen syllable sentence. However, one is formatted as multiple sentences with the total of all sentences being seventeen syllables:
Rainy night on Union Square, full moon. Want more poems? Wait till I'm dead.
(which, incidentally, seems to imply that "poems" should be pronounced as disyllabic), one is an incomplete sentence:
To be sucking your thumb in Rome by the Tiber among fallen leaves...
and one is comprised of a single sentence consisting of two seventeen syllable lines:
He stands at the church steps a long time looking down at new white sneakers—
Determined, goes in the door quickly to make his Sunday confession.
Some are surreal in imagery, some blatantly sexual, some at least implicitly political. There are several sites on the Internet that talk about American Sentences, including one by a poet who claims to have written one a day since January 1, 2001, which kind of makes Neo's 30/30 thread seem like Little League batting practice.

Anyway, give it a try, even if you're not American. Incomplete sentences and multi-line poems are OK, per the original. You Brits and Canadians get the same syllable constriction, but your own syllabification ("aluminium," anyone?).

Here's some external links:
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Old 01-10-2014, 07:22 PM   #2
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This reminds me a lot of some pop poetry from the 60s where some of the titles are longer than the actual poem. This one was by Mersey poet Adrian Henri.

Song for a Beautiful Girl Petrol Pump Attendant on the Motorway

I wanted your soft verges but you gave me the hard shoulder


EXPLANATION: The soft verge is grass at the side of the road. The hard shoulder is the emergency lane of the motorway (highway)
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Old 01-10-2014, 07:33 PM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tzara View Post
(which, incidentally, seems to imply that "poems" should be pronounced as disyllabic)
I think I remember someone saying that there is no definite rule on how to separate syllables in English. Is this true?

To my ear, it is "clear" that it should be split as "po-ems". But then, I'm doing it as I would have done with a word in my own language.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Tzara View Post
Anyway, give it a try, even if you're not American.
Very interesting. Let's see...

Aluminium cans left on the street, nothing lost with people who fetch.
(A-lu-mi-nium cans left on the street, no-thing lost with peo-ple who fetch.)

Aluminium cans left on the street, give my thanks to waste collectors.
(A-lu-mi-nium cans left on the street, give my thanks to waste col-lect-ors.)

Hm... Is this how you'd split those words?
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Old 01-10-2014, 07:40 PM   #4
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Old 01-10-2014, 07:41 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tsotha View Post
Aluminium cans left on the street, nothing lost with people who fetch.

Aluminium cans left on the street, give my thanks to waste collectors.

Hm... Is this how you'd split those words?
Well, let's see what we have.
Aluminium has four syllables in American and five in English, so you'd have:

four one one one one one, two one one two one one. 17? check!

five one one one one one, one one one one one three. 17? nope...maybe drop the word 'give'?
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Old 01-10-2014, 07:46 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Remec View Post
Well, let's see what we have.
Aluminium has four syllables in American and five in English, so you'd have:

four one one one one one, two one one two one one. 17? check!

five one one one one one, one one one one one three. 17? nope...maybe drop the word 'give'?
"American" and "English". I didn't know there were differences beyond the accent. Thanks for the clarification, Remec!

Edit: Hm... You've counted four syllables on the first, and five on the second. Shouldn't I stick with the American four syllables? If so, wouldn't the second be correct?

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Old 01-10-2014, 07:54 PM   #7
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Old 01-10-2014, 07:59 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tsotha View Post
"American" and "English". I didn't know there were differences beyond the accent. Thanks for the clarification, Remec!

Edit: Hm... You've counted four syllables on the first, and five on the second. Shouldn't I stick with the American four syllables? If so, wouldn't the second be correct?
Oh yeah, sure, but I thought you were looking at the difference between the two.

This is the sort of thing that I sometimes find problematical since I have such a tendency to drop sounds, blur internal consonants, and draw out diphthongs (hazard of living in the South for so long, even for non natives) that my syllable counting isn't always precisely spot on dictionary-wise. hehehe

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Old 01-10-2014, 08:13 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tsotha View Post
"American" and "English". I didn't know there were differences beyond the accent. Thanks for the clarification, Remec!

Edit: Hm... You've counted four syllables on the first, and five on the second. Shouldn't I stick with the American four syllables? If so, wouldn't the second be correct?
The word is spelled (or, British, spelt) differently in the USA and the UK. Americans spell it "aluminum" and tend to pronounce it like a·LUM·i·num. In the UK (this is, of course, my impression--I'm not British) it's spelled "aluminium" and pronounced more like a·loo·MIN·i·um, where the first syllable is a minor stress and the third a major stress.

My impression is that Canadian English tends to follow British spellings but more often than not American pronunciation (please correct me on that if that's wrong, Northerners). No idea how Kiwis, Ozzies, South Africans, etc. would spell/pronounce the word.

A more pure example of pronunciation difference (I think) is a word like "controversy," which Americans usually pronounce like CON·tro·ver·sy and Brits like con·TROV·er·sy.

Again, I think.

I am open to correction on this from those of you who know your own language conventions better that I do.
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Old 01-10-2014, 08:15 PM   #10
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Quote:
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Sandra's virgin vagina is like a wet dream tattooed on my palm
Hi, bogus!

That reminds me a bit of one of Ginsberg's poems: I can still see Neal's 23-year-old corpse when I come in my hand.
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reflected on the unusual events that had taken place within
this huge apartment building during the previous three months.

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Old 01-10-2014, 08:20 PM   #11
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Quote:
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Hi, bogus!

That reminds me a bit of one of Ginsberg's poems: I can still see Neal's 23-year-old corpse when I come in my hand.
Hi Tzara.

That's a good one but you need to know who Neal is. I've just been teaching my daughter's boyfriend about the beats. If he's gonna pinch my beer, he's gonna have to learn some culture!


This is more difficult than it sounds! American sentences, that is, not teaching my daughter's boyfriend culture!
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Old 01-10-2014, 08:21 PM   #12
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Remec, yes, I was looking for the difference. Just got a bit confused by that. Thank you.

Hm, so it seems I used the wrong spelling since I was going for the American syllables. Aluminum, not aluminium. Noted. Also, I didn't realize there were such differences in pronunciation.

Here, let's try another...

Fingers pull forcefully as lips trace contours between pale moonlit thighs.
(Fin-gers pull force-ful-ly as lips trace con-tours be-tween pale moon-lit thighs.)

Last edited by Tsotha : 01-10-2014 at 08:23 PM. Reason: correcting the syllables
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Old 01-10-2014, 08:32 PM   #13
Tzara
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bogusagain View Post
Hi Tzara.

That's a good one but you need to know who Neal is. I've just been teaching my daughter's boyfriend about the beats. If he's gonna pinch my beer, he's gonna have to learn some culture!


This is more difficult than it sounds! American sentences, that is, not teaching my daughter's boyfriend culture!
I'm assuming it's a reference to Neal Cassady, the "Dean Moriarty" of Kerouac's On the Road, and a lover of Ginsberg's. Though he didn't die at 23, so that's either poetic license or misidentification.

Is it considered good form in Europe to pinch the beer of your date's father? I would think that might generate some (slight, at least) ill will.

As for her boyfriend's culture, you can (and I assume are) going to "beat" it into him.




I know, I know. Bad pun.
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Old 01-10-2014, 08:36 PM   #14
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By the way, Angie posted a very nice American Sentence as her poem 29 in Neo's 30/30 thread.
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Old 01-10-2014, 09:18 PM   #15
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Old 01-10-2014, 09:21 PM   #16
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Oh, hey, bogus (everybody else can ignore this post which, since this is my thread should be OK to drop in here), I've been meaning to ask you if you know the work of Franz von Stuck. His house, near Munich (Villa Stuck) is a museum. There's a fairly significant exhibition of his work here in Seattle right now (the curator of the Frye Art Museum here used to be curator at the Villa Stuck), and I really enjoyed the exhibit. Art Nouveau/Secession stuff--quite stylized, lots of gold leaf, reminds me a bit of Klimt, and his darker stuff of Böcklin.

You're the only artist I know, and that only through the coincidence of social media. This work quite resonated with me and I was curious what you thought about it, if you'd seen it.

No matter if you've not.
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Old 01-10-2014, 09:32 PM   #17
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Raincoat guy, under a streetlamp, asks me for a cigarette. “Don’t smoke.”
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Old 01-10-2014, 10:06 PM   #18
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After One of Eve's Photographs

A red bra draped over a mailbox—can that not be invitation?
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Old 01-10-2014, 10:17 PM   #19
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I'm English and pronounce aluminium as Al-uuu-min-i-um ....... if that makes sense
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Old 01-10-2014, 10:22 PM   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by UnderYourSpell View Post
I'm English and pronounce aluminium as Al-uuu-min-i-um .......
"I'm En-glish and pro-nounce a-lu-mi-ni-um as a-lu-mi-ni-um"

Well done, that has 17 syllables!

And yes, that made sense. Thanks.
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Old 01-10-2014, 10:25 PM   #21
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Blessed are the cracked for it is they that let in the light
They say a smile is a gift which is free to the giver and precious to the recipient.
But giving the finger is free, too, and I find it more personal and sincere.
If at first you don't succeed....skydiving is not for you ....
If you don't pay your exorcist .... do you get repossessed?
I shall always decide not to decide, unless of course I decide to change my mind.
....But I, being poor, have only my dreams, I have spread my dreams under your feet,Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.......
Nil Caborundum illigitimi
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Old 01-10-2014, 10:28 PM   #22
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tsotha View Post
"I'm En-glish and pro-nounce a-lu-mi-ni-um as a-lu-mi-ni-um"

Well done, that has 17 syllables!

And yes, that made sense. Thanks.
lol was it?
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Blessed are the cracked for it is they that let in the light
They say a smile is a gift which is free to the giver and precious to the recipient.
But giving the finger is free, too, and I find it more personal and sincere.
If at first you don't succeed....skydiving is not for you ....
If you don't pay your exorcist .... do you get repossessed?
I shall always decide not to decide, unless of course I decide to change my mind.
....But I, being poor, have only my dreams, I have spread my dreams under your feet,Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.......
Nil Caborundum illigitimi
Sestina slut
Annie submits
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Old 01-11-2014, 12:55 AM   #23
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Readin' 'merican Sentences here , sensitizes one's poetic aesthetics
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Old 01-11-2014, 01:44 AM   #24
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Old 01-11-2014, 01:44 AM   #25
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