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Friday, 16 November 2018

Meddle with a cinquain poem

For the launch of the Meddling with Poetry course, I'm sharing 16 delicious forms of poetry I've discovered, each of them a delight to play with.

Cinquain is Fancy French poetry-speak for a fivey, each line longer then the last one short. Line 1: 2 syllables. Line 2: 4 syllables. Line 3: 6 syllables. Line 4: 8 syllables. Line 5: 2 syllables.

This is a concise, and wonderfully versatile little form, which also has some delicious variations. ("Cinquain" is basically Frenchified poetry-speak for a "fivey".) It's super simple: no rhyme or metre requirements, and just 5 lines, which steadily increase in length, then abruptly jump back down:

Line 1: 2 syllables
Line 2: 4 syllables
Line 3: 6 syllables
Line 4: 8 syllables
Line 5: 2 syllables

For example...

I walk
the Erl-King's wood
of beechmast, berries, ripe
decay, and golden pools of sun
that lie.

It was invented by Adelaide Crapsey around the turn of the century. She used iambic metre (de-DUM) and my example does too, but you can use whatever metre suits you.

Then you can also spin it through all sorts of fun variations, if you don't feel like stopping at just one. You can write a cinquain "chain", where the last line of one cinquain is the first line of the next. You can also write a "cinquain swirl", which is a bunch of them linked together, sharing the two-syllable line as the last/first, and the two-syllable line is the same each time.

Here's a draft cinquain chain I wrote, from the prompt "falls to the soul" (a snippet from Pablo Neruda's poem, "Tonight I can write the saddest lines"). In each stanza, the last line becomes the first line of the next stanza. Right at the end, it ties in a circle by using the first line of the poem as the last line.

falls. To the soul
tiny stabs of light are
constellations, a sparse dot-to-dot

five dots can make
the big dipper, nineteen
are somehow Orion, and that’s
the sword.

The sword
of Damocles,
hanging by a horse hair
above the throne, mocks what you wished
on stars.

On stars,
we pin such shapes,
wildly drawing contours
of beasts and gods, between dots, on

And here's a draft cinquain swirl I wrote a couple of months ago, to try it out. It's very similar, but the two-syllable line is shared between each cinquain.

cowled figures haunt
the pool and wrap the wind
in their cloaks. Empty deckchairs lie
Deserted tiers
rise under curved clay tiles
where windows stare blankly over
terraces. Chairs
line the long glass table
past which leaves scud, awaiting the
feast of unseen
guests. The cowled figures wait.
Clouds swell. Only the wind is not

Start with a cinquain or five, try it out, see how it feels, and then chain or swirl to your heart's content!

Note: To respect copyright, these blog posts only use my own poems as examples. On the course, I'm licensed to give my students copyright poems, so you'll see lots of others.

The next Meddling with Poetry course starts in May 2020. It explores a host of different poetry forms, as well as the musicality of language, poetic imagery, and other aspects of the poetic. Absolute beginners and experienced writers are equally welcome. You can read more details and book a place here.

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