Remembered as the inventor of the cinquain, Adelaide Crapsey’s poems were published posthumously in the twenties and thirties. During that time she was praised by anthologist Louis Untermeyer as “an unconscious Imagist,” then by literary critic Yvor Winters as “a minor poet of great distinction.” He believed her poems remained “in their way honest and acutely perceptive.” Most anthologies published after 1950 however, even those of women poets, neglect to include her.
Adelaide read English and French translations of Japanese tanka and haiku and wrote extensive notes on Anthologie de la Littérature Japonaise by Michel Revon. Michel’s exegesis of the poetic forms and the cultural background and significance sharpened her interest to produce a new form of poetry.
The cinquain resembles the haiku in its juxtaposition of images. Although short, “it must contain two elements, usually divided by a break marked by what the Japanese call a ‘cutting word’ (kireji). One of these elements can be a broad condition such as stillness in a landscape, the end of a season, and the other element may be a momentary perception. For the haiku to be effective, it must leap with a spark of the sudden perception of a truth, which then leads to an awakening or enlightenment.
Some of Crapsey’s finest cinquains involve this same idea of superposition or “one idea set on top of another.” Her poem “Amaze” incorporates a superposition of ideas or a crisscrossing between the ephemeral and the eternal, the still and the flowing.
Not these my hands
And yet I think there was
A woman like me once had hands
Try It: Superposition in a Cinquain
Remember: 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.
Apply the idea of the “superposition” (or “one idea set on top of another”) into your own cinquain poem. Think about the two elements used in haiku and shape it into the theme of your poem. Add your spark of truth.
Thanks to everyone who participated in last week’s poetry prompt. Here is a poem from Christina we enjoyed:
The Cold Remedy
Now diffuse oils.
Close eyes. Nap. Let it be.
Rest? Salvation. Heal the unseen.
Photo by Georgie Pauwels. Creative Commons via Flickr.
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