Saturday, October 10, 2015

Prompt #234 – One Sentence Long

One thing we’re all taught in writing classes is to watch out for run-on sentences. This week, just for fun, let’s try writing a single sentence poem (but not a typical run-on that wanders aimlessly along the page).

There are many such poems by very distinguished poets, including “Piedra de Sol” by Octavio Paz, which is a 584-line one-sentence poem (that ends with a colon).

One of my all-time favorites is Ezra Pound’s “In a Station of the Metro”:

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough. 

And here’s a longer one-sentence poem by Linda Pastan:

The New Dog   

Into the gravity of my life,
the serious ceremonies
of polish and paper
and pen, has come

this manic animal
whose innocent disruptions
make nonsense
of my old simplicities—

as if I needed him
to prove again that after
all the careful planning,
anything can happen.
Another by Wallace Stevens:

The Snow Man

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

And this from Adrienne Rich’s Twenty-One Love Poems:


The rules break like a thermometer,
quicksilver spills across the charted systems,
we’re out in a country that has no language
no laws, we’re chasing the raven and the wren
through gorges unexplored since dawn
whatever we do together is pure invention
the maps they gave us were out of date
by years … we’re driving through the desert
wondering if the water will hold out
the hallucinations turn to simple villages
the music on the radio comes clear—
neither Rosenkavalier nor Götterdämmerung
but a woman’s voice singing old songs
with new words, with a quiet bass, a flute
plucked and fingered by women outside the law.


1. Look at the example poems above and below. Notice how the poets use punctuation and line breaks to “pace” their poems. Try to do the same with your poem.

2. You might begin with  a free write that contains little or no punctuation.

3. Work toward a poem that’s 6-12 lines long, and don’t be afraid to try and divide into stanzas.


1. As always, avoid over-description and too many adjectives.

2. Don’t allow meaning to become subservient to form; that is, focus on what your poem means more than the lack of terminal punctuation.

3. Think in terms of semi-colons instead of periods.

4. Work through images as you tighten wording. 

5. Don't simply write a run-on sentence—make your one sentence poem interesting and accessible.



  1. Great fun and a great challenge, to dig deeply and to write without boring the reader, and look, this is a one-sentence response to your prompt!

    1. Love your comment, Jamie, for which my thanks! Have fun with the prompt.

  2. Hi, Adele,

    I read the title of Linda Pastan's poem 'The New Dog' as The New Day, which became the inspiration (along with this week's prompt) for my poem —

    Europe, 1914-1918

    An owl blinks at the blood of the moon

    over salmon that leap from nightmare-trenches

    to the open sea where fear gives way to the smile of

    the sun over an oystercatcher seabird in white

    shirt and straw sunhat and Siegfried Sassoon

    out on the seafront with his dog that laps at

    the new dawn in a frisbee.

    ~ ~ ~

    1. Thanks for sharing this, Lewis! I really like where the prompt took you! There's a great image-driven surreal quality.

    2. I may have an idea for a poem and after reading your prompt the piece takes an unexpected/surprising direction.

      Thank you, Adele, for taking the time to provide your weekly and inspirational prompts :)

    3. You're very welcome, Lewis! I'm so glad to know that you find the prompts helpful. Thank you again for sharing your work with us!

    4. Very nice, Lewis! Just goes to show what we can do in a single sentence!

    5. Thank you, Jamie. Single sentence poems are great fun. They seem to work as the catalyst for all sorts of ideas and exploring different ways of writing.

  3. Replies
    1. Hi, Risa, it's a pleasure to read your poems--I'm always curious to see your response to the prompts :)

  4. Another Sunday

    Sitting together
    Fatty and I
    while birds sing cheerfully outside,
    the fan whirs, and my crocheted shirt
    grows longer and longer,
    we no longer feel
    the passage of time

    1. Beautiful, Risa! I can picture you and Fatty sitting there.

    2. I love your poem, Risa!

    3. Really nice, Risa! Your style -- concise, no nonsense -- is always such a pleasure. I really enjoy your poems!