Sentences by Robert Grenier

In 1978, Whale Cloth Press in Cambridge, MA published Robert Grenier’s Sentences in an interesting box of 500 5 in. x 8 in. white index cards with snippets of poetry on them. Most of them are slice-of-life or simply nonsensical, alone or connected to one another. The box is an indigo fabric with different flaps folding together to create the sides.

Robert Grenier, Sentences (Cambridge MA: Whale Cloth Press, 1978). Image courtesy of the Sheridan Libraries, Johns Hopkins University.

At first, I wondered how the poetry fit together, but after a bit of research I discovered the publishing company’s website. They have now released an online version of the work which can be read here.

This site arranges the cards in a random order, which suggests that there is no particular order in which they should be read because they are, in fact, just bits and pieces of poetry that all sort of fit together in a nonsensical way. Grenier himself said, when an interviewer asked what the relation of one card to another was, “None. But you can make one.” Even for the author, this collection of mini-poems as a complete experience is very personal. Each reader will have a different interpretation and create different scenarios from the arbitrary order of the cards.

From all I’ve read of it, Sentences reminds me of summer afternoons with my family, the first day of school and how it feels to spend time with a friend and realize how close you’ve become. One blogger describes it particularly well, saying that when he reads things like this he feels, “nostalgic even for things that are happening right at that time.”

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