The “New Sentence” & “Chronic Meanings”

The “new sentence,” as discussed by Perelman in his essay, “is more or less ordinary itself, but gains its effect by being placed next to another sentence to which it has tangential relevance…” I found this idea to be interesting because it makes us look at language and writing differently. When we read a novel or a poem, we take it for granted and assume that each line will connect and form a coherent story. However, after I read these poems, I learned otherwise. In our society, we watch television and movies, receive information, and just absorb. The “new sentence” forces our minds to do the opposite.

At first glance, Bob Perelman’s “Chronic Meanings” structurally looks like any poem we have read in class. As I started reading I noticed that I did not understand what the first stanza was saying. I decided to read it again and yet, I still took no message away. Quickly after I made the connection to his essay and I realized that it wasn’t my lack of understanding poetry that was the problem here- the lines really did not connect to each other to form a coherent message. Or did it? The first line of every stanza ends abruptly as if it should continue but cannot. For example, the speaker says, “On our wedding night I ” (17). Then what? I found this to be frustrating, but thought about it as a way for the reader to fill in the blanks and really engage in the reading. In addition, each line has no connection to the next. Reading it, I almost felt as if a man was literally pulling lines out of a hat to determine what the next line should be.

After reading, I asked myself what the point of the “new sentence” is. I know that it definitely forced me to think a lot more than if I had read a different type of poem. I had to constantly try my best to make connections between lines and tried to make some sense of the random words. In many of the stanzas I was able to find a general theme. For example, I concluded that the ninth stanza as a whole discusses time, and the eleventh stanza talks about nature. However, I was not able to create a theme for every stanza that I had read. While I might be able to make some sense of each stanza, I was not able to make sense of the poem as a whole.


  • What do you think is the point of using this writing style? Does it say something about the speaker?
  • Do you think it is possible to come away with a message after reading the poem in its entirety, or only through each stanza alone?
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6 Responses to The “New Sentence” & “Chronic Meanings”

  1. Mika Katz says:

    I was very intrigued by Debra’s idea of “taking the novel or poem that we read for granted and assume that each line is connected to one another”. In one sense the author could want the reader to interpret every single line separately. Perhaps he arranged the periods like that for that reason, to force the reader to stop and analyze. In another sense, the author might have wanted the reader to not take each line so literally or seriously. By leaving it ambiguous, the reader can read the lines backwards, forwards, and upside down. It could be a writing mechanism to allow the reader to interpret it their way, regardless of exactly what the author was trying to convey. Because I had no idea what was happening, I read each line in the stanza backward and actually enjoyed the poem much more. It had more meaning to me surprisingly.

  2. I think that perhaps “Chronic Meaning” by Perelman is the most honest poetry we have read yet. All emotion and tensions of the author are not being obscured with any pretenses about meaning or form. There is nothing holding the words back. It is very much a stream of consciousness. That is what I think the message is, that we are able to glimpse into the mind of the author without having to think. That may seem conterintuitive, because the language is so confusing. But at the same time, it’s not confusing at all. We are there to pick up the words he’s laying out WITHOUT thinking. We take it in and let our minds wander.

  3. In response to Debra’s second question and her comment that she was able to find themes in some stanzas but not in all, I’m not sure that there is an overall message to find in the poem as a whole in the first place. Meaning, most poems have overall themes that the reader can identify, either easily or not so easily. However, in this poem, the thoughts seem so disconnected and the sentences seem so broken up, that it seems as if the message of the poem is the very fact that it’s discontinuous. Also, “chronic” means something that persists for a long time or is constantly recurring. Perhaps the reason Perelman named his poem “Chronic Meanings” hints to the fact that he wants the meaning of the poem to be something that is constantly recurring. Perelman wants it to be able to be interpreted at any time in any place, however society wants to interpret it. It’s not specific to any one thing, and can be understood under any circumstance.

  4. Max Richter says:

    Similar to Debra saying “but thought about it as a way for the reader to fill in the blanks and really engage in the reading”, I too thought that this was the point of having a poem structured in this way. Even though at first it may seem idiotic, the more you read “Chronic Meanings”, the more involved you get in the poem. The poem seems more like a reflection on the reader than the poet, since the reader has to essentially submit his or her own interpretations to finish off each line. The poem gets the reader more involved and more alert in the actually words of the poem. I don’t think it necessarily says something about the speaker because most of it isn’t very telling.

  5. Perelman takes the idea of the “new sentence” and shows us through poetry what exactly this new sentence is. In the essay before the poem, Perelman explains that the new sentence is both a form of continuity and separation as the period marks an ending, but the new sentence is a continuation of the sentence before. In his poem, each line is a new sentence, as implied by the periods and capital letter, but makes no sense as a continuation of the sentence before. I agree with Debra that at first it was very confusing trying to understand what the poem meant until I realized it was not necessarily what the poem meant but what the poem showed us about sentences. I think that Perelman wrote it this way to show us that though sentences are supposed to be a continuation of an idea or a story they are not always. I also find it ironic that the poem is titles “Chronic Meanings” when in fact the poem has no meaning whatsoever.

  6. Bella Rubin says:

    Its good that we understood the “new sentence,” by Bob Perelman before we read his perplexing poem “Chronic Meanings.” I liked how Debra questioned Perelman’s work “the lines really did not connect to each other to form a coherent message. Or did it?” I had a hard time forming any connections of Bobs choices of topics for his stanzas. I think the point of using this writing style forces the reader to think out of the box. It forces the reader to ask themselves am I just following the crowd or thinking for myself, and voicing opinions I believe. I think it says something about the speaker to not be afraid and to write in his own creative style. At first it seemed like an unreliable narrator, I was not able to follow one train of thought. Knowing this was on purpose I think the speaker was trying to make us form connections between things we would not otherwise make any connections to.

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