One of my publishers recently asked me to write a few children’s poems for an anthology on friendship, and there were specific forms that they wanted the poems to be written in. I was ecstatic to learn that one was a cinquain—that’s one of my favorite forms. I even have a twitter feed DaillyCinquain that I post to regularly.
In case you don’t know, cinquains were invented by American poet Adelaide Crapsey, and first appeared in her 1915 collection Verse. These short poems are similar to haikus in that each line has a certain syllable count.
Structure a cinquain:
Line 1 — 2 syllables
Line 2 — 4 syllables
Line 3 — 4 syllables
Line 4 — 6 syllables
Line 5 — 2 syllables
Here is one of Craspey’s cinquains:
Listen . . .
With faint dry sound,
Like steps of passing ghosts,
The leaves, frost-crisp’d, break from the trees
And now for one of mine:
Winter Morning Sounds
of snow under
foot. A crow’s laughing caws.
My dog’s huffs as she sniffs fresh snow.
A trick to writing short poems, like cinquains, is that the title can serve as an extra line and lead into the poem. For example, another one of mine:
The Morning After It Rains
has turned quiet
with soggy leaves folding
the sound of our heavy footsteps
Probably the reason I like cinquains so much is that they work well for painting small moments, whether it is the sound of birds chirping or something you see on your morning walk. And then with any poetic form, especially a short one, you—the poet—are forced to be economical with your word choices. Each word has to be carefully thought out and placed. They can be difficult to write, to capture your complete idea with so few words, which is why cinquains are great writing practice, whether you are a poet or like writing prose.