Cinquain, despite its French-sounding name, is an American poetry form that can be traced back to Adelaide Crapsey. Crapsey, influenced by Japanese haiku, developed this poetic system and used it to express brief thoughts and statements. Other poets who popularized the form were Carl Sandburg and Louis Utermeyer. While the form does not have the extensive popularity of haiku, it is often taught in public schools to children because of the form’s brief nature.
Most cinquain poems consist of a single, 22 syllable stanza, but they can be 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 and the fourth line has eight syllables, the final line has two syllables:
The line length is the only firm rule, but there are other guidelines that people have tried to impose from time to time.
- Write in iambs (Two syllable groupings in which the first syllable is unstressed and the second syllable stressed. For Example: i DRANK she SMILED we TALKED i THOUGHT) For the last line of the cinquain, however, both syllables should be stressed, NICE BAR.
- Write about a noun. Cinquains generally fail if you try to make them about emotions, philosophies or other complex subjects. They should be about something concrete.
- Don’t try to make each line complete or express a single thought. Each line should flow into the next or the poem will sound static.
- Cinquains work best if you avoid adjectives and adverbs. This doesn’t mean you can’t have any, but focus on the nouns and the verbs. This almost always works best in a cinquain.
- The poem should build toward a climax. The last line should serve as some sort of conclusion to the earlier thoughts. Often, the conclusion has some sort of surprise built into it.
One possible, but not required, format is as follows:
Line 1: Title Noun
Line 2: Description
Line 3: Action
Line 4: Feeling or Effect
Line 5: Synonym of the initial noun.
If you look at my examples, I prefer to use the noun as a separate title, not as part of the cinquain. Also, only one of the three poems is written in iambs.
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 on other sites
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.