OLWG #17 – Sometimes the Tension is Provided by the Reader

 This weeks prompts are at the bottom. The story here – well – it’s not really a story today. Let me slide along just a little, people. Let me slide along.

Here’s how to play along, if you are unsure.

Today I want to talk a bit about imagists. At the risk of over simplifying, and stereotyping, this is my take on Imagist poets in a nutshell. The idea is to capture an image that reflects a given moment in time – the moment before is different. The moment after is different still. There are three standards by which these poems should be judged:

  1. Treat “the thing” directly. Never dance around it either subjectively or objectively
  2. Use no word that does not contribute to the presentation
  3. As you compose, keep the phrasing in mind, not the beat, ignore the drummer

All the poets that I have known, without exception, professed that verse should be pared down. All superfluous and unnecessary words should be removed. Adjectives and embellishments should be minimized and used only when absolutely required. Abstracts should be abandoned and particulars should be embraced.

Allen Ginsberg believed in the imagist’s tenet of condensation. His work eschewed articles; tiny words were virtually nonexistent in his work. Along with this paring providing the condensation he wanted, it also provided a sense of urgency and import to his work.

As a young man I developed the idea that haiku was the ultimate embodiment of the element of condensation, and yet, Ginsberg never wrote haiku. His solution was the American Sentence. One sentence (maybe more, or less), seventeen syllables, story’s done. -Did you see what I did there?-

In juxtaposition to haiku which are seventeen syllables reading down (per the Japanese convention of top to bottom); the American sentence is seventeen syllables reading across (per the American convention of left to right).

Examples from Ginsberg:

Seventeen syllables:

That grey-haired man in business suit and black turtleneck thinks he’s still young.

Seventeen syllables:

Bearded robots drink from Uranium coffee cups on Saturn’s ring.

 Seventeen syllables after a scene setting title:

Tompkins Square Lower East Side N.Y.

Four skinheads stand in the streetlight rain chatting under an umbrella.

Seventeen syllables in multiple sentences with a scene setting preamble:

Rainy night on Union square, full moon. Want more poems? Wait till I’m dead.

Seventeen syllables in an incomplete sentence:

To be sucking your thumb in Rome by the Tiber among fallen leaves…

This week’s prompts are:

  1. You might choose to write some poetry!
  2. You might choose to write American Sentences!
  3. You might choose to write something else. I just want you to write!

Go ahead and dive in,
Write something
Ready, Set, Go – you have 25 minutes!

11 thoughts on “OLWG #17 – Sometimes the Tension is Provided by the Reader

  1. Australopithecine was a new one for me. I had to look that one up. Still not sure I have a good understanding but I got the gist. I like the way you wrote this. Why would I expect anything less from you. Amazing!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I was looking for words with 17 letters as a play on the prompt. Believe me, I had to look it up as well. I think I used it in the right context! Fun prompt this week. Gave the ol’ noggin’ a good work out!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Such an interesting post this one. I am intrigued by these American sentences. I keep wanting to write along with you, but never get my act in gear. Now, if I stick to 17 syllables within 25-minutes to a prompt, I might just manage it…


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