Saturday, February 2, 2013

Weekend Mini-Challenge: Cinquain!

Welcome to the weekend, Toads and Friends! Marian here, with your weekend challenge. Some of you know that I am a fan of tight little poetry forms. Today we will be working with my special favorite, the CINQUAIN. I believe we have visited the five-line cinquain before, but it’s such a lovely form, it seems ripe for a weekend focus.

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:


The old
Old winds that blew
When chaos was, what do
They tell the clattered trees that I
Should weep?


These be
Three silent things:
The falling snow... the hour
Before the dawn... the mouth of one
Just dead.

Beautiful, right? Now, down to cinquain basics. The cinquain is a five-line poem with the following characteristics, in decreasing order of importance:

  1. Strict syllable count: 2-4-6-8-2
  2. Strong title (important with such a tight poem)
  3. Strong imagery (perhaps, even, an image per line)
  4. Nature imagery, as in haiku or tanka (though I certainly vary from this!)
  5. Juxtaposition or a clever “turn” at the end
  6. 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:

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

If you
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.

small hours

about rising
before the morning breaks,
shivering, I witness the sun
soot-smudged mountain,
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
of rain
and sea.
Shelter me hard against the dunes,
lick the salt from my wounds.
Sing of me, be
my muse.

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

A bug!
Bug on my lunch!
Make me a new sandwich!
Mama, there’s a bug in the pool!
Buzz! Wah!
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.
No mistletoe,
but kiss.

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.


My hands
down in your dirt,
massaging tender roots,
wondering what you are thinking
as I
am on my knees,
surrounded by fragrant
dreams, reaching to twine in my locks
and pull
me down.
About those blooms?
About your tender heart?
Tendrils clenching ever tighter;
I’m not
Holding my breath
became a way of life,
not noticed until a bud bloomed.
My brain
slowly raising
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!


Lolamouse said...

I'm going to give this a try. Sometimes having to adhere to a strict form helps me focus my brain and actually produce something. Thank you for the introduction to cinquains.

Unknown said...

Had to laugh at the not fooling me cinquain!

Helen said...

You have mastered the art of the cinquain.....

Marian said...

hah! "not fooling me" = me showing you that no fooling, any subject is okay!

not sure i've mastered it but i am not joking when i say i've gone through periods of obsession with cinquains. join me!! heh heh heh.

LLM Calling said...

I love playing with new forms and this is very new to me, off to play now with some of the photos I.took.on a walk today.

Susan said...

I play with the rules of the form for a clever and quick (if dull) finish, though I still need to enter the "nature spirit" of the cinquain. I will do that, I promise.

This essay is most enjoyable because filled with your poetry! It feels like the perfect follow-up to the great interview yesterday in which you mention bringing "more Light."

Marian said...

the interview's not me, Susan, it's Izy interviewing Kim. and thank you xo

LLM Calling said...

I tried a garland cinquain in the end, Rachel likes it :)

Janine Bollée said...

TRICKY [2 syllables].

GoddessChhavi said...

Haha, Aprille is so right! It's "TRICKY"! "Any" tricked me, first I wrote it as one syllable, then while counting, it came out in 2 syllables. Loved this new challenge. And setting rules gets me focused on writing, I can't believe I just did my own first Cinquain! :D Thanks Marian!

Marian said...

watch out, cinquain-imagining can be habit-forming! :)

Susan said...

Marion, I am so sorry to call you out of your name! Forgive me!

Jennifer Wagner said...

Thanks Marian...I think you're right...I can feel the habit forming! And I like :-)

Susan said...

Marian, I am so doomed to a series of senior moments this morning!

Gail said...

may the talented enjoy. On weekends there are so many prompts. Maybe, soon, I will get to join in the fun.

Janine Bollée said...

Marian, this is 'finger-tappingly good!
I can see how it may become habitforming.

Marian said...

Hah, no one's counting :)

hedgewitch said...

Oh you are tempting me, Marian. I am trying so hard to stay off this thing...but I do have a real weakness for this form. Yours are wonderful--and so many, all so good. I will respond if I am able.

Sherry Blue Sky said...

Sorry, Marian - I thought I was linking to Laurie's Friday prompt - please remove my link for me. I may be back for this challenge later......

Marian said...

just doooo eeeet, Hedgewitch! you know you want to. easy peasy!

Sherry, hee hee! you are all set, i took it down. now write a cinquain!

i feel like a pusher, encouraging you all in my habit. :)

Kateri said...

Oh, my, I think this might be my style. I love all these poems in the example. Looking forward to readings everyone's contributions.

Anonymous said...

Green Beer
Fresh foam
Wave against ten
Digging, gripping joints
Each one swimming and floating up
For breath

Marian said...

i'm so pleased that you all are enjoying the cinquain!! beautiful efforts all, keep em coming, i'll keep reading! yay!

i really like the one just above... yay, girlwiththepen118.

i posted mine. as promised, i did try (again) the garland, and it is really hard for me. i think it would be better without that last stanza. i'm convinced that those of you who like the garland must ALSO like other forms i despise, like sestina and whatnot. hee!

Anonymous said...

Thank you kindly Miriam, that's so meaningful since its my first time here~ Thank you ~ Deborah

Ella said...

This is tricky, with an amazing delivery!
I love your photos ;D It looks like you had fun~

Kathy Reed said...

Have been peeking in here now and then but not sure of my forms yet; mine is not profound my any means..they can be fun, though ;) I will comment later tonight, thank you.

Ella said...

Oh, I had fun with this...a few errors, but over all-fun!
It is late, no early...I will comment tomorrow! Good Night for some and good morning for others~ :D

Isadora Gruye said...

Mine's is up....inspired by the photo of the heart, which inspired my to listen to the Dresden Dolls which inspired the poem.

hedgewitch said...

Alright, pusher woman, I succumbed to the addictive vibe of your insidious form. I will try to do some visiting, within my crippy limitations...forgive me if I'm slow, all.

Susie Clevenger said...

Thanks for the challenge. Your own written examples rock!!

Marian said...

ohhh i just love all of you for writing these! my heart is full with geek-poet happiness. thank you!

hedgewitch! hee hee, i feel all drunk with power now.

Marian said...

i wrote a groundhog day cinquain :) so i figured i'd link it up. if you write more, link away! no limits. write like the wind, Toads! :)

my heart's love songs said...

i only wish i could write to form as well as you, Marian!

Margaret said...

I have been "out of play" for a few days, but hope to come back and catch up on a few of these past prompts. I miss my toads and hope to be able to play on Monday for a bit.

Manicddaily said...

HI Marian - another form I've vaguely heard of but not truly and never done. Thanks for the examples and inspiration. Mine is a bit silly but enjoyed. And hope you had a good time in NYC. Take care, k.

Sara McNulty said...

I have tried to link up sdeveral times, to no avail.
I did post a cinquain at:

Anonymous said...

Marian, you are the exalted QUEEN of every form of cinquain; I'm almost afraid to try but I will.

But... CRAPSEY? Poor woman. Amy

Marian said...

hey, Sara: i saw that last night, that your link didn't work. thanks for sticking with it and posting it again! i deleted the broken link for you. not sure what was up but i liked you cinquain so yay!

Kerry O'Connor said...

@ J Cosmo
This link does not take us to a cinquain for Marian's Sunday challenge, so it has been removed. I see the same poem is linked up to Open Link Monday, so I guess that explains the error.

Marian said...

sure I'm not done
expressing in cinquain,
even though the prompt has ended.
Oh, well.

Sharp Little Pencil said...


Marian said...

yay Amy! loudrowdy applause for you!

Hannah said...

I loved this form, Marian!! Thank you for the great examples from you and the "Garland!!" I love that one!! I'll be round to read the next few days, Toads!! :)

Jules said...

Dear Garden Friends, thank you for this prompt and I hope you enjoy my attempt...inspired by Hannah.