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 DogInto the gravity of my life,the serious ceremoniesof polish and paperand pen, has comethis manic animalwhose innocent disruptionsmake nonsenseof my old simplicities—as if I needed himto prove again that afterall the careful planning,anything can happen.
Another by Wallace Stevens:
The Snow ManOne must have a mind of winterTo regard the frost and the boughsOf the pine-trees crusted with snow;And have been cold a long timeTo behold the junipers shagged with ice,The spruces rough in the distant glitterOf the January sun; and not to thinkOf any misery in the sound of the wind,In the sound of a few leaves,Which is the sound of the landFull of the same windThat is blowing in the same bare placeFor the listener, who listens in the snow,And, nothing himself, beholdsNothing that is not there and the nothing that is.
And this from Adrienne Rich’s Twenty-One Love Poems:
XIIIThe rules break like a thermometer,quicksilver spills across the charted systems,we’re out in a country that has no languageno laws, we’re chasing the raven and the wrenthrough gorges unexplored since dawnwhatever we do together is pure inventionthe maps they gave us were out of dateby years … we’re driving through the desertwondering if the water will hold outthe hallucinations turn to simple villagesthe music on the radio comes clear—neither Rosenkavalier nor Götterdämmerungbut a woman’s voice singing old songswith new words, with a quiet bass, a fluteplucked 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.