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I don’t know if this is a type of poem, but it is a type of sentence. As far as I know (which isn’t much) a sentence can be a poem, so there we have it, a Periodic Poem.

I have been reading Stanley Fish’s “How To Write A Sentence: And How To Read One.” On page 52 he discusses subordinate sentences with Martin Luther King’s famous sentence from “Letters From Birmingham Jail.”

But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick, brutalize, and even kill your black brothers and sisters with impunity; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she cannot go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her little eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see the depressing clouds of inferiority begin to form in her little mental sky, and see her begin to distort her little personality by unconsciously developing a bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son asking in agonizing pathos, “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross-country drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger” and your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and when your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodyness”–then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait.


If you cannot see this sentence as a poem, you might as well stop reading now.

This sentence employs hypotaxis — weak or imperfect coordination — and anaphora — a rhetorical device that consists of repeating a sequence of words at the beginnings of neighboring clauses, thereby lending them emphasis. Each of its preliminary clauses repeats form and by themselves do not complete the sentence. The sentence is fulfilled with a dramatically understated conclusion. It is a powerful sentence, a powerful technique.

I planned on writing one as a poem during PAD (April 2014), should the inspiration strike. But my friend Max — maxie409 — beat me to it. Read her poem at Poetic Asides. I won’t post it here, not directly. But isn’t it a great little poem? It uses the same format as MLK’s sentence and carries its own enormous impact in its own context. She does not use a single sentence, but she could have. I mentioned Cicero in her comments. He is considered the original master of this sentence form.

So this morning when I woke I was determined to write my own. I can’t remember my first draft, but it was very stodgy and telling using obtruse comparisons. It was a bludgeoning sentence. I kept the ideas but re-wrote every word and made them more glancing, less clear, more image-based. I like it, but I think it can be improved. Some of its antithesis is not coordinated. Pft. It flows at least. And it is only one sentence. The prompt was “Love.”

Love Springs Eternal

Spring around here is not a time of pure joy but a time of transition, of remembering the past as you watch it melt away revealing blankets of green, of listening to the early morning woodland songs of joy while death remains heavy in the snow, of emerging life while the roads that got us here decay spectacularly and despite this passage of time, the unceasing flux of creation, and the uncertainty of life, our love lives on, stronger than ever in this season of hope.

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