In a previous blog, Haiku: Five Syllables Too Few, I wrote about my mild frustrations trying to write haiku, which is so sparse, and I mentioned that I would continue the story of syllables and me at a later date. This is that date, or part of it (because the syllables go on).
When I was in college and first learned about haiku, I also learned that a cinquain was a five-line poem, or five-line stanza. So? I thought. Cinquains, sestets, septets, what’s with all the line counting? What I didn’t learn until much later — way after I tried writing haiku — is that there’s a specific, syllable-counting poetic form called a cinquain. So there’s cinquain general, and there’s cinquain specific.
The cinquain specific, created by American poet Adelaide Crapsey, consists of five lines (usually unrhymed) totaling 22 syllables. The breakdown of syllables per line is as follows: 2 / 4 / 6 / 8 / 2. The form is now known as the American cinquain. In creating this form, Crapsey was influenced by Japanese forms such as the haiku and tanka.
The moment I read my first American cinquain, I fell in love with its form. I was particularly drawn to the buildup and then the final, abrupt 2-syllable line. Feeling that I couldn’t express myself well in haiku’s 17 syllables, I tried writing cinquains.
To me, at least, the difference was astonishing. With just 5 extra syllables, I felt I could say so much more. Plus, as I stated earlier, I love the abruptness or finality of those two final syllables.
Here are four of my cinquains. The first three were inspired by plants or animals I saw while hiking. The fourth was inspired by my attempt to weave a Japanese bamboo bundle basket . . . a tricky process.
and learn: tightly coiled
is not the way to view the world.
life drove me wild,
a glut of noise and nuts.
In the forest I hear myself
where twisted branches twine,
the path is not for those who crave
sits quietly, waiting
for my next move before springing
For me, the cinquain is a form that now comes naturally. I use it often. But in my exploration of syllable-count poems, I also learned about the tanka and the fib, both of which I’ll write about later.
Crossing the Skyway, my first book of poems, contains two cinquains.