The cinquain poem, while having the feel and style of Japanese forms like haiku and tanka, was created by American poet Adelaide Crapsey (1878-1914), whose cinquains and other poems were collected after her death in a volume titled Verse. Here are two of her most popular cinquains:
Old winds that blew
When chaos was, what do
They tell the clattered trees that I
Three silent things:
The falling snow... the hour
Before the dawn... the mouth of one
Beautiful, right? Now, down to cinquain basics. The cinquain is a five-line poem with the following characteristics, in decreasing order of importance:
- Strict syllable count: 2-4-6-8-2
- Strong title (important with such a tight poem)
- Strong imagery (perhaps, even, an image per line)
- Nature imagery, as in haiku or tanka (though I certainly vary from this!)
- Juxtaposition or a clever “turn” at the end
- Accented stress pattern (1-2-3-4-1) and initial capitalization were both used routinely by Crapsey (and are both present in her poems above) but have been all but abandoned in modern cinquain writing. I have not really focused on meter, but may make that my focus this weekend.
Please visit this wonderful article about the cinquain, written by Aaron Toleos as his master’s thesis at Salem State College: cinquain.org
Toads, I have written many, MANY cinquains, some horrid, some lovely. I was fairly obsessed with them a year or two ago; at least for me, once you start counting syllables and writing in this kind of tight form, the ideas flow. There are a number of cinquain variations, too, for when your thoughts require more than 22 syllables. I thought I’d use some of my cinquains to illustrate different variations, so here goes (all of the below poems copyright Marian Kent):
don’t look it in the mouth
huddle at night
scribbling it all down, ink
to blood to paper, you daren’t
Above is a basic five-line cinquain that I wrote last week. Note the strong title that almost functions as a sixth line and gives context for the poem.
before the morning breaks,
shivering, I witness the sun
pallid sky fades flesh-pink,
kitchen awash in reflected
This one is two cinquains stuck together. Nature theme!
not fooling me
perpendicular on the bed
no pillow, cold, so you
can say you're not
Above is an example of REVERSE cinquain: five-line syllabic verse with the pattern 2-8-6-4-2.
I’ve been away.
Let’s shed our winter coats,
lie naked and entwined, dreaming
Shelter me hard against the dunes,
lick the salt from my wounds.
Sing of me, be
This one (from my book, Responsive Pleading) is an example of MIRROR cinquain: a standard cinquain followed by a reverse cinquain.
the sounds of summer
Bug on my lunch!
Make me a new sandwich!
Mama, there’s a bug in the pool!
I heard a bee buzzing by me!
You’re letting the bugs in!
Shaddup and go
and twinkly lites,
licking sugar on air,
drum cacophony celebrates
King of the Hill, six episodes
later and you’re ready.
The above two poems (also from Responsive Pleading) are examples of BUTTERFLY cinquain: nine-line syllabic verse with the pattern 2-4-6-8-2-8-6-4-2.
down in your dirt,
massaging tender roots,
wondering what you are thinking
am on my knees,
surrounded by fragrant
dreams, reaching to twine in my locks
About those blooms?
About your tender heart?
Tendrils clenching ever tighter;
Holding my breath
became a way of life,
not noticed until a bud bloomed.
my face to the noon sun,
allowing new growth the chance to
This one (from Responsive Pleading) is an example of CROWN cinquain, which is simply a sequence of five cinquains strung together. I took liberties with the form in this one (and many of mine), however, because most of the cinquains in this one could not stand alone, but are dependent on the others. The lesson here is: the cinquain is a flexible and beautiful form that you can bend and shape to create poems that are truly your own and speak in your unique voice.
Finally, if you want to go directly to the head of the class, you can try a GARLAND cinquain: a sequence of six cinquains in which the final cinquain is composed of lines from the preceding five (generally L1 from S1, L2 from S2, L3 from S3, etc...) Although I’ve tried it, I don’t have an example of garland cinquain fit to share here. Maybe that should be my challenge for today!
Okay, friends. Thank you for indulging me in rambling on about my favorite form. If you take the challenge, I think you’ll find that this form is actually very simple, and you can be very effective with it. My challenge to you all is to write several cinquains, and/or to try one or more of the variations. And above all, have fun with cinquains!
And... for those of you who abhor syllable counting, never fear! I have for you a photo prompt. I was in New York City this week, an inspiring place in any moment. Here are some midtown Manhattan snapshots for your enjoyment and inspiration:
As always, please write something new for this challenge, link up with Real Toads, and visit others to provide support and commentary. You are welcome to use these photos on your blog, but please credit yours truly. Enjoy and have a great weekend!