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Writing the Cinquain Form

Cinquain History

Cinquain is an American poetry form. Despite its French-sounding name it was created by an American, Adelaide Crapsey. Crapsey was influenced by Japanese haiku. He developed it to express brief thoughts. It also serves to make statements. Carl Sandburg and Louis Utermeyer popularized the form.

The form is not as popular as haiku, but it has been growing in popularity over the years. Teachers use it to introduce students to poetry. Cinquain poems are brief. They are ideal for beginners.

Cinquain Form

Most cinquain poems use a single, 22-syllable stanza, but sometimes stanzas are combined into longer works. A cinquain consists of five lines. The first line has two syllables. The second line has four syllables. The third line has six syllables. The fourth line has eight syllables. The final line ends with two syllables:

2

4

6

8

2

Line length is the only firm rule. There are other guidelines, as seen below, but no firm rules.

Cinquain Guidelines

  • Write in iambs. Iambs are two syllable groupings. The first syllable is unstressed. The second syllable is stressed. For Example: i DRANK she SMILED we TALKED i THOUGHT. For the last line of the poem both syllables should be stressed, NICE BAR.
  • Write about a noun. Cinquains are too brief to be about complex subjects. Pick something concrete.
  • Don’t try to make each line complete or a single thought. Each line should flow into the next. Otherwise, the poem will sound static.
  • Cinquains work best if you avoid adjectives and adverbs. Focus on nouns and verbs.
  • Build toward a climax. The last line should conclusion earlier thoughts. Often, the conclusion has a surprise or turn.

Here is one possible format:

Line 1: Title Noun.

Line 2: Description.

Line 3: Action.

Line 4: Feeling or Effect.

Line 5: Synonym of the initial noun.

I prefer to use the noun as a separate title. Others make it the first line.

Examples

Tucson Rain

The smell
Everyone moves
To the window to look
Work stops and people start talking
Rain came

Opening Game

Game time
Season looked good
National champions
We told ourselves as we sat down
Not now

New Bar

Across
The street I went
To drink at the new bar
I drank she smiled we talked I thought
Nice bar

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