Saturday, January 20, 2018

Prompt #303 – One-Sentence Poems

A line will take us hours maybe;
Yet if it does not seem a moment's thought,
Our stitching and unstitching has been naught.

—William Butler Yeats

One-sentence poems are conceptually interesting and a challenge to write. The title, however, is a bit misleading. One-sentence poems are longer than a typical sentence, they may even be several stanzas long. Importantly, they are not simply poems without punctuation. In fact, they employ all the standard rules of punctuation, capitalization, and grammar, and all of poetry’s distinguishing features: figures of speech, imagery, and sound values. However, because these poems are one-sentence but several poem-lines long, they must be carefully constructed and go a long way toward encouraging the writer to make every word count, to tighten language, and to focus on details to create a sense of immediacy and “presence.”

Unlike prose that moves freely from paragraph to paragraph, poetry is composed in lines. Lineation in poetry refers to the way lines break in definite places (decided upon by the poet). Lines are elements of composition that impact meaning and sound. It isn’t necessary to end a line of poetry with a terminal punctuation mark, and, poets often use enjambment (the continuation of a sentence without a pause beyond the end of a line or stanza, without terminal punctuation at the end of the line).

In a one-sentence poem, we're not talking about one line. The poems may be a number of lines long, but is composed as a single sentence. The poet simply continues the main thought from line to line using such punctuation marks as commas, semi-colons, parentheses, dashes, and colons and moving from line to line without any terminal punctuation. The idea is not to create a long run-on sentence but, rather, to a craft a poem that flows seamlessly from line to line.

Take, for example,  Galway Kinnell's amazing poem "Saint Francis and the Sow":

Saint Francis and the Sow
     by Galway Kinnell

The bud
stands for all things,
even for those things that don’t flower,
for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;   
though sometimes it is necessary
to reteach a thing its loveliness,
to put a hand on its brow
of the flower
and retell it in words and in touch
it is lovely
until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing;   
as Saint Francis
put his hand on the creased forehead
of the sow, and told her in words and in touch   
blessings of earth on the sow, and the sow   
began remembering all down her thick length,   
from the earthen snout all the way
through the fodder and slops to the spiritual curl of the tail,   
from the hard spininess spiked out from the spine   
down through the great broken heart
to the sheer blue milken dreaminess spurting and shuddering   
from the fourteen teats into the fourteen mouths sucking and blowing beneath them:
the long, perfect loveliness of sow.

And this wonderful example by Edmund Charles Baranowski:

Death Sentence
     By Edmund Charles Baranowski

The scent of death lingers
in the air
from the rotting corpse
of a road kill deer,
laying near the curb,
just out of town,
on the corner of
the cemeterial grounds;
decaying quickly
in the summer's heat;
displaying death
on a one way street;
at the base of the sign post,
below the sign
that says "one way"
not unlike time.


1. Think for a while about the subject of your one-sentence poem, and jot down some ideas, images, and phrases.

2. Remember that crucial in creating one-sentence poems, are strong pictorial images and images that appeal to the senses and emotions.

3. Don’t try to write a long one-sentence poem for starters. Begin with a shorter poem, no more than 12-15 lines.


1. Once you have an idea for your subject, begin writing.

2. Be especially aware of how you break your lines (and ultimately stanzas).

3. Use traditional punctuation throughout your poem but remember that there should be no terminal punctuation except at the end of your last line.

4. Work on sound: create harmonic textures through alliteration, assonance, consonance, and internal rhyme.

5. Pay attention to syntax and pacing.

6. Control subject and tense.

7. Work with enjambments.

8. As always, end with a dismount that has a “punch.”

1. The Red Wheelbarrow
by William Carlos Williams

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

2. The New Dog
by Linda Pastan

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.

3. Bright Star, Would I Were Stedfast [sic]
By John Keats

Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art—
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like nature's patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth's human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors—
No---yet still stedfast, still unchangeable,
Pillowed upon my fair love's ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake forever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever—or else swoon in death.

4. "Piedra de Sol" (Sunstone) by Octavio Paz is a 584-line one-sentence poem that ends with a colon—making it a 584-line incomplete sentence.

Read “Piedra de Sol” here (original and translation):

Click here to visit an online journal that publishes one-sentence poems:


  1. Brilliant, Adele,and the St. Francis poem is stunning. Ive already begun a draft and am pleased with where it's going.

  2. Perfect timing! I was talking to the creative writing class this past week about run-on sentences in prose. This will be an interesting activity for the students.

    1. Thanks so much, Rich! Great that the timing was good!

  3. What a great idea, and the Kinnell poem is a stunner.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Sandy! I couldn't agree more about the Kinnell poem.

  4. I'm enjoying this challenge. It's not easy, but the process is great. Thank you!

    1. Thanks for your comment, TJ! I agree that the concept is a challenge, and I'm glad to know that you're enjoying the process.