Saturday, August 14, 2021

Prompt #371 – Condense, Condense, Condense


Here we are in the "dog days" of summer, and where I live, we're just beginning to move toward a respite from extremely humid, 95º+ days. I find myself looking forward to autumn! In weather like this it's hard to concentrate on writing, and perhaps even harder to work on refining poems already written. This prompt will revisit one from the first year of the blog that I hope will be helpful to you, whatever weather you may be experiencing.

In poetry, condensing and compression are about making poems more compact and less wordy. They are skills that enable poets to use the fewest possible words and to extend beyond literal understanding into nuances and associations that offer deeper meanings. In poetry, less really is more. As Dylan Thomas wrote, "The best craftsmanship always leaves holes and gaps ... so that something not in the poem can creep, crawl, flash or thunder in." Those holes and gaps can't happen in an overwritten poem.


In the earlier prompt I mentioned an interesting article that presents a view toward boosting awareness of condensing in our poems. From the article (


"Allen Ginsberg was a full believer in condense, condense, condense – which is a Pound dictum..." 


The article continues (and this is what caught my attention), "Check Allen's poetry for articles (remember "a," "an," "the"?) and you'll see where he starts – these bitty words all but disappear in his work, which not only condenses but gives a rushing sense of immediacy to his work." The article goes on to discuss Ginsberg's reaction to haiku, a genre that I credit with teaching me much about condensing and compression. Ginsberg's answer to haiku first appeared in his book Cosmopolitan Greetings in the form he called "American Sentences." According to Ginsberg, an American Sentence is simply one sentence that contains seventeen syllables (the writing of which is a great way to focus on condensing and compression). 


So here goes – our prompt this week is to create American Sentences in the manner of Allen Ginsberg, and then to look at our already-written poems with an eye toward condensing and compressing them. 

Before you begin, be sure to read some American Sentences online and become familiar with how they work.


1. Pick 3-5 topics (anything that catches your fancy).

2. Write an American Sentence on each topic you chose (have fun with this and be aware of how you condense  and compress).

3. After you've written a few American Sentences, take a look at some of your already-written poems. Think about how you might condense and compress to improve them.

4. Are there unnecessary prepositions that you can lose?

5. Are there articles (a, an, the) that you don't need?

6. Are there conjunctions (and, but, although, when, while, yet, because, for, until, etc.) that your poems can live without?

7. Do you include more details than necessary? Do you "tell" with words rather than "show" with effective imagery? The best [poems show without overt telling.

8. How can you condense and compress to create greater immediacy, energy, and power?

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