This fourth in a series of beau présents written for my favorite poets is meant as a tribute to probably my ultimate fave – the one and only Thomas Lux (in case you haven’t read my previous posts on the form, the beau présent is an usually brief poem composed to honor a person that consists of only words formed from the letters in their name):
A Beau Présent For Thomas Norman Lux
Thomas Lux’s a natural author,
a most moral man (not a trashman
nor a smut mouth, not rash nor lax,
not sour nor ho-hum), a smooth
orator, an ultrasmart annotator,
a solo astronaut, a tutor to lost tarantulas.
Thomas Lux has an autonomous soul,
uses humor to summon truth
& rout out rumor, shouts out
marathon rants to taunt & harass
amoral morons, louts, & trolls,
or to honor an oath to mutual human trust.
Thomas Lux’s as hot as arson,
as sonorous as a sonata on an alto sax.
Lux’s our mantra, our motto, our north,
our south, our moon, our sun, our stars,
our sultan, our tsar, our start, our last
hurrah, our utmost, our total – our all!
“Without poetry the soul and heart of man starves and dies.”
“I do not suppose that anyone not a poet can realize the agony of creating a poem. Every nerve, even every muscle, seems strained to the breaking point. The poem will not be denied; to refuse to write it would be a greater torture. It tears its way out of the brain, splintering and breaking its passage, and leaves that organ in the state of a jelly-fish when the task is done.”
“Poets are always the advance guard of literature; the advance guard of life. It is for this reason that their recognition comes so slowly.”
“I never deny poems when they come; whatever I am doing, whatever I am writing, I lay it aside and attend to the arriving poem.”
“Poetry, far more than fiction, reveals the soul of humanity.”
“Poetry is the most concentrated form of literature; it is the most emotionalized and powerful way in which thought can be presented.”
“Polyphonic prose is a kind of free verse, except that it is still freer. Polyphonic makes full use of cadence, rime, alliteration, assonance.”
“To understand Vers libre, one must abandon all desire to find in it the even rhythm of metrical feet. One must allow the lines to flow as they will when read aloud by an intelligent reader.”
“Don’t ask a writer what he’s working on. It’s like asking someone with cancer on the progress of his disease.”
“God made me a business woman, and I made myself a poet.”
“One writes a poem when one is so taken up by an emotional concept that one is unable to remain silent.”
“Writing is a job, a craft, and you learn it by trying to write every day and by facing the page with humility and gall. And you have to love to read books, all kinds of books, good books. You are not looking for anything in particular; you are just letting stuff seep in.”
“I write poems to find out why I write them.”
“I can’t believe there is a poet who hasn’t eagerly put down a word one day, only to erase it the next day deciding it was sheer lunacy. It’s part of the process of selection.”
“Many of my poems try to use a comic element to reach a place that isn’t comic at all. The comic element works as a surprise. It is unexpected and energizing.”
“My poems always begin with a metaphor, but my way into the metaphor may be a word, an image, even a sound. And I rarely know the nature of the metaphor when I begin to write, but there is an attentiveness that a writer develops, a sudden alertness that is much like the feel of a fish brushing against a hook.”
“A poem is a window that hangs between two or more human beings who otherwise live in darkened rooms.”
“For the past thirty years or so, much American poetry has been marked by an earnestness that rejects the comic. This has nothing to do with seriousness. The comic can be very serious. The trouble with the earnest is that it seeks to be commended. It seeks to be praised for its intention more than for what it is saying.”
“Poetry is a craft that one learns over a long period of time. But you only learn it if certain gifts are there to begin with – an imagination, the ability to make metaphor, a sense of language and rhythm and sound. intelligence, passion, curiosity, a great deal of empathy, and a fire in the belly.”
“Poetry… creates a metaphor, which enables the reader to experience what you have experienced with a kind of specificity and depth that is not possible in casual language, partly because the form also communicates the information.”
Being so gratified by the enthusiastic response to my recent post on the American Sentence (with so many readers trying their own hand at writing one as well as linking that post to their own blogs), I decided to write some more on the subject. Doing research on the net, I discovered the delightful practice of people searching for “found” American sentences buried in a variety of literature such as novels and short stories (thanks to an informative post by Sue Walker on the Negative Capability Press website). So I have attempted mining for some poetic treasure of my own in two classic novels by two of my favorite writers. The following are the results of my literary treasure hunt (with some of the original sentences slightly altered and edited to fit the rules of the American Sentence of 17 syllables being written in a single line as a complete grammatical sentence). First, here are three gorgeous “found” American Sentences written by Ray Bradbury, who I feel may be the most exquisite writer of poetic prose of all time, from his novel Dandelion Wine:
His fingers trembled, bright with blood, like the bits of a strange flag now found
— Ray Bradbury
Birds flickered like skipped stones across the vast inverted pond of heaven
— Ray Bradbury
Bees have a smell, their feet are dusted with spice from a million flowers
— Ray Bradbury
And here are three by Raymond Chandler from his first novel The Big Sleep (the last one might just be my favorite American Sentence ever):
Mid-October is the sun not shining and a look of hard wet rain
His heart was a brief, uncertain murmur, his thoughts were as gray as ashes
The old man nodded, as if his neck was afraid of the weight of his head
So what do you think, dear readers? Are you now inspired to start searching for possible American Sentences in your own favorite books? I sure hope you are, and if you find any good ones, that you will share your bounty with us all!
“Poetry: the best words in the best order.”
“Works of imagination should be written in very plain language; the more purely imaginative they are, the more necessary it is to be plain.”
“What is an epigram? A dwarfish whole. Its body brevity, and wit its soul.”
“Poetry has been to me its own exceeding great reward; it has given me the habit of wishing to discover the good and beautiful in all that meets and surrounds me.”
“A poet ought not to pick nature’s pocket. Let him borrow, and so borrow as to repay by the very act of borrowing. Examine nature accurately, but write from recollection, and trust more to the imagination than the memory.”
“When a man is unhappy he writes damned bad poetry…”
“Iambics march from short to long;–
With a leap and a bound the swift Anapaests throng.”
“No man was ever yet a great poet, without being at the same time a profound philosopher.”
“Poetry is the blossom and the fragrance of all human knowledge, human thoughts, human passions, emotions, language.”
“Sir, I admit your general rule, That every poet is a fool, But you yourself may serve to show it, That every fool is not a poet.”
Today’s post is on the American Sentence, a poetry form invented by the American Beat poet Allen Ginsberg in the mid-1980’s as a twist on traditional haiku. Like haiku, American Sentences consist of 17 syllables, but instead of being arranged into three lines, they are written as a single line or sentence. They also may or may not have a title.
As far as the other rules of the form, there seems to be varying opinions. Many seem to feel the poem should be just one complete grammatical sentence, while others have written them as two, three, or four or even just as series of phrases. Paul E. Nelson (the poet most associated with the American Sentence, besides Ginsberg) emphasizes the use of concrete images though ones written by others often deal with abstractions. Ginsberg, himself, stated that the poem, if possible should mention either a time or place (or both) and the use of articles such as “a” and “the” should be avoided. But even he didn’t always follow the last suggestion as seen in these four of the original American Sentences composed by Ginsberg:
Nov 1991 N.Y.
Put my tie on in a taxi, short of breath, rushing to meditate
Tompkins Square Lower East Side N.Y.
Four skinheads stand in the streetlight rain chatting under an umbrella
On Hearing the Muezzin Cry Allah Akbar While Visiting the Pythian Oracle at Didyma Toward the End of the Second Millennium
At sunset Apollo’s columns echo with the bawl of the One God
Approaching Seoul by Bus in Heavy Rain
Get used to your body, forget you were born, suddenly you got to get out!
In comparison, here are four American Sentences that I attempted:
The ham slices squeal on the smoking grill like the ghosts of dying pigs
The Sad Truth About Aging
To grow old is to witness your world being dismantled around you
The Gambler’s Mantra
Luck is a middle finger waved in the face of probability
An Urban Stroll a Week After a Winter Storm
Propelled by my feet, chunks of frozen snow skitter down gritty sidewalks
As you can see, some of my American Sentences adhered to some of the rules stated above, while some others didn’t at all. If you decide to try your own hand at writing one (I really hope you do), please feel free to pick and choose which rules you want to follow. The only vital rule that should not be ignored is that the American Sentence be 17 syllables and written in one line.