The cinquain, otherwise known as a quintain or quintet, is a poem (or a stanza) composed of five lines. Several European languages offer examples of this form dating back to medieval days.
Adelaide Crapsey was an American poet of the early 20th century who used a form of 22 syllables lovingly sprinkled among the five lines in a 2/4/6/8/2 pattern. It shares similarity to the Japanese poetic forms, haiku and tanka.
Offering only a few words in each line, the cinquain (pronounced “sin-cane” not “sin-kwane”) is one of the easier forms to learn. With a diamond-like shape when centered, it shares a similarity to the poetic form called the diamanté.
Even though they’re a mere five lines long, the most memorable cinquains tell us a story. Not satisfied with just descriptive words, the poem might also have something happening or some sort of action, maybe even a feeling brought on by the action, and a conclusion.
Listen. . .
With faint dry sound,
Like steps of passing ghosts,
The leaves, frost-crisp’d, break from the trees
Adelaide suffered from tuberculosis of the brain lining and lived the rest of her young life in a sanatorium before succumbing to the disease at the age of thirty-six. Since most of her poems focused on death and dying, one can suppose it was her way to find resolution.
Try It: Cinquain Poetry
We’re going to practice writing a cinquain in the style of Adelaide Crapsey. Here are her rules:
The poem is five lines long.
The first line is 2 syllables, the second has 4, there are 6 in the third, 8 in the fourth, and 2 syllables again in the last line. Keep saying “2,4,6,8,2” in your head and you’ll be fine.
Cinquains don’t need to rhyme, but if you want, go for it.
Now you need to choose a topic. You can write about what you love, what you loathe, something that you see outside your window right now, or something that happens—to you or anyone. Although Adelaide’s poems leaned toward the quietus, yours can be full of springtime and cheer, if you choose.
If you want your cinquain to tell a story:
1st line: Start with your subject.
2nd line: Describe it.
3rd line: Include an action.
4th line: Add the feels.
5th line: Your conclusion.
That’s all there is to it! Enjoy writing your cinquain.
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Thanks to everyone who participated in last week’s poetry prompt. Here is a poem by Rick that gave us a good deal of wing envy:
Photo by きうこ. Creative Commons via Flickr.
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How to Write a Poem uses images like the buzz, the switch, the wave—from the Billy Collins poem “Introduction to Poetry”—to guide writers into new ways of writing poems. Excellent teaching tool. Anthology and prompts included.
“How to Write a Poem is a classroom must-have.”
—Callie Feyen, English Teacher, Maryland
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Where I Went
In the tops of trees, swayed
into the countryside of dreams,
on waves of air, I was lost and found,
high above browned grasses.
The tartan of rooftops
lay harmless below me
as I flew, a nameless bird
over the broken concrete walks
that burned my feet, now far
from the spines of the locust tree,
over the canals lined with old men
fishing for eels, in the cattails.
I circled in a wind from somewhere
and I was all the noises no one silenced,
open like the hope in suffering,
open like a bell in gray light.
There, on a spindle of leaves,
I watched the birds aloft
on the vapor of their wings
and I flew for hours not knowing where.
—by Rick Maxson