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Good afternoon/evening/morning everyone, depending on which of the world’s time zones you are in. My name is Tony Maude and this is my first time presenting Form for All.

A couple of Saturdays ago Fred hosted An Evening of Short Verse, using his Poetics prompt to challenge us to write poems of 12 lines or fewer. Many of us chose to use all 12 lines, thus neatly avoiding the need to be too brief;– I know I did … smiles.

When considering traditional poetry forms, which is part of what we do in Form For All, it seems to me that we are somewhat prone to overlooking the various short forms that have been developed over the centuries. I’m sure we’ve all tried our hand at haiku – and it’s just about a year since Madeleine Begun Kane taught us how to write limericks, but most of us are probably more comfortable writing longer poems.

Today, I would like to bring a short verse form to the bar for your consideration.

The Cinquain
Broadly speaking, any five-line stanza or poem is a cinquain, the term being derived from cinq – the French word for five – so limericks and Japanese tankas are cinquains (the older term quintain has fallen out of use). However, cinquain – sometimes expanded to American cinquain – also has a specific meaning; it refers to the poetic form invented by Adelaide Crapsey (1878 – 1914).

Here are a couple of examples:

November Night
With faint dry sound,
Like steps of passing ghosts,
The leaves, frost-crisp’d, break from the trees
And fall.

Adelaide Crapsey

SwanPhoto © Dendroica cerulea.
Reproduced under Creative Commons License via Flickr

Mute Swan
serenely by,
snow-white sails reflected
in the calm water, webbed black feet

© A B Maude, 2013

It should be readily apparent that the cinquain is a form of syllabic poetry; that is, the form depends on counting the number of syllables in each line. The scheme is a first line of 2 syllables, followed by 4, 6, 8 and finally 2 syllables again. I believe this form has some advantages over the Japanese haiku (three lines of 5,7,5 syllables) and tanka forms (five lines of 5,7,5,7,7 syllables):

1) Each line contains an even number of syllables and can therefore be written in the iambic metre that forms the basis of most English language poetry. That this is the case is not surprising when one considers that Crapsey’s main work was her A Study in English Metrics, which was posthumously published in an incomplete form in 1918.

2) Being slightly longer than the haiku, the cinquain gives the poet a little more room for manoeuvre, but not much.

3) Unlike Japanese poetry forms, which traditionally do not have titles, cinquains are titled poems. I suspect that adding a fifty word title to your cinquain is not really playing the game, but there’s no rule against it … smiles.

Adelaide Crapsey is considered to have been one of the early imagist poems, and the cinquain form readily lends itself to capturing a single image, moment or mood. Many of Crapsey’s cinquains – 28 of which were published after her death in a 1915 collection entitled Verse – focus on images of fragility, death and dying.

So the essence of today’s prompt is to write a cinquain, BUT before you all reach for your pens/pencils/keyboards there is something else I’d like to raise.

Line Endings.
One of the potential drawbacks of writing poetry in syllabic forms is that simply ending a line when you have reached the required number of syllables can lead to some very weak line endings; words like an, of, from, to and so on etc. appear at the end of lines, reinforcing the view that some poetry is just chopped-up prose. Another issue that can arise is splitting words over two lines in order to meet the syllable count requirement.

In an ideal world each line of verse – be it form poetry or free verse – would end with a carefully chosen, significant word. Choosing these words is part of the craft of poetry; carefully chosen line endings can disrupt, emphasise or build up tension, invite readers to engage with the poem by asking questions, build expectancy, etc. Admittedly, it is difficult to give every line ending great significance, but it is possible to avoid really weak line endings.

So there you have it: today’s challenge is to write a stand-alone cinquain. In your poem try to capture the essence of a single moment, image or mood, pay attention to your line endings and avoid, if at all possible, using words like the, at, a or and at the ends of your lines.

To close, here is another of Adelaide Crapsey’s cinquains by way of inspiration, and one of mine by way of instruction:

I know
Not these my hands
And yet I think there was
A woman like me once had hands
Like these.

Adelaide Crapsey


Photo © ashley.adcox
Reproduced under Creative Commons License via Flickr

five-line poem;
twenty-two syllables
laid out two, four, six, eight, then two

© A B Maude, 2013

So what do you do now? Here’s How It Works:

• Write your cinquain and post it to your blog
• Add a link to your cinquain via the ‘Mr Linky’ below.
• This opens a new screen where you’ll enter your information, and where you also choose links to read. Once you have pasted your poem’s blog URL and entered your name, click Submit. Don’t worry if you don’t see your name right away.
• Read and comment on other people’s work to let them know it’s being read. This part is important because:
1) It helps to build your dVerse community, and
2) Reading other people’s’ work will enrich your own writing.
• Share your work and that of your fellow poets via your favourite social media platforms.
• Above all – have fun!