Cinquain is an American poetry form. Despite its French-sounding name it was created by an American. The form was started by 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. It is growing though. Teachers use it to introduce students to poetry. Cinquain poems are brief. They are ideal for beginners.
Most cinquain poems use a single, 22-syllable stanza. 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:
Line length is the only firm rule. There are other guidelines, but no firm rules.
- 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.
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.
To the window to look
Work stops and people start talking
Season looked good
We told ourselves as we sat down
The street I went
To drink at the new bar
I drank she smiled we talked I thought
Cinquain Poems: Examples of cinquain poetry
Cinquain in the Wikipedia: Wikipedia’s discussion of the poetry form.
Cinquain in an Instant A tool for writing Cinquain poems
Cinquain.org A scholarly publication about the poetry form.
Article was first published in 1999. Updated December, 2013.