Tuesday Tryouts: Poems — The Cinquain Form

24 May

8:43 a.m. — Atlanta

Hello, dear readers! I hope all is well and that you had a good writing weekend, or if not, a good weekend. I hope you tried the cascade form from last Tuesday, or at least played with it.

Today’s form is short. I hear the sigh of relief. And, all that is required is counting syllables and even they are not that difficult. I will give you an example of a personal cinquain, a regular cinquain, and of a cinquain stepped up a notch for those who like to wrestle with their poetry.

Because a cinquain is short it is important to keep in mind the following mantras:




The cinquain has been around for centuries as a form. At its most basic it is 22 syllables. Therefore, the title of a cinquain has more importance than a title might usually have, in that it can act as a sixth line. You can write a single cinquain, or a series of closely related cinquains, in which each cinquain acts almost as a stanza for a longer poem.

The personal cinquain is the easiest as it allows you to work around the syllable count, if you wish, and focus on the number of words: 11. You may, of course, stay traditional and work with the syllable count instead: 2, 4, 6, 8, 2 in which case, don’t worry about the number of words.

I.     ONE word for the person—a name or another descriptor.
II.    TWO words that define or describe the person.
III.   THREE words that describe an event related to the person.
IV.   FOUR words that express the person’s attitude toward the event.
V.    ONE word that sums up or otherwise concludes the previous lines.

The example of a personal cinquain I have in my files is by James Penha:


Eyes glistening
swam far out.
Too young to die

For the regular cinquain it’s the syllable count that counts, not the number of words, and the topic can be anything. Here is an example by Adelaide Crapsey the writer who developed the modern form of the cinquain:

November Night

2    Listen …
4    With faint dry sound,
6    Like steps of passing ghosts,
8    The leaves, frost-crisp’d, break from the trees
2    And fall.

For the stretchers among you, Crapsey wrote a cinquain that works well as a model. It is not a separate kind of cinquain, but her structure works well for a copy-change:


These be
Three silent things:
The falling snow…the hour
Before the dawn…the mouth of one
Just dead.

To follow, come up with a topic to replace “silent things” and follow the poem’s structure. The syllables are still: 2, 4, 6, 8, 2.

These be
three noisy things:


These be
three yellow things:

You get the idea.

I expect to see my comments box flooded with cinquains, yes? They can be an addictive form, particularly the copy-change model, “Triad”.

If you have questions, do ask. If you think someone would enjoy this, click on the buttons below. I shall see you Thursday for more words to avoid; Friday for the week’s roundups; and next Tuesday for a non-form, simple prompt to let you relax and breathe. Happy writing everyone.


Posted by on 24/05/2011 in exercises, poetry, writing


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

23 responses to “Tuesday Tryouts: Poems — The Cinquain Form

  1. pamelasayers

    24/05/2011 at 12:43 pm

    Interesting form, Margo. I will give it a whirl.BTW, I have written a very rough draft of the cascade combined with “we write poems” prompt for this week. So, I will be double posting. My time has been constrained, due to a crazy teaching schedule I’ve taken on.

    Again thanks for being here,

  2. margo roby

    24/05/2011 at 12:47 pm

    I look forward to seeing your cascade, Pamela. That would work well, I would think, with a beginning of the world topic.
    You are getting a summer vacation aren’t you? Tell me you didn’t sign up for summer school!

    Hopefully your life will calm down soon,


  3. Annette

    25/05/2011 at 5:22 pm

    Cinquains are fun! I’ve posted two. I’m still playing with my cascade. It’s a challenging form for me. But I’m happy with my last attempt — hopefully I’ll finish playing with it and have it up today as well.

  4. Annette

    25/05/2011 at 5:24 pm

    Oops! Just realized that my comments are linked to my other blog. Here I am with the correct link. Sorry! (Hoofprints In My Garden)

    • margo roby

      25/05/2011 at 9:24 pm

      I am coming over now to look, Annette. I’m glad you enjoyed the cinquains. I warned you they are addictive!

    • vivinfrance

      28/05/2011 at 2:38 am

      I couldn’t find your poems. Could you post a shortcut?

      • margo roby

        28/05/2011 at 9:19 am

        Viv — which poems? If you mean my own I don’t post because of Google mining and I’m still in the publishing game. The ones that occasionally appear in response to prompts, I go back and pull after a couple of weeks. I wish it weren’t so.
        If it’s a link to something else, let me know.

      • vivinfrance

        28/05/2011 at 12:23 pm

        It’s Annette’s poems that I couldn’t find – the link didn’t work.

      • margo roby

        28/05/2011 at 2:06 pm

        I had to go search for the link myself, Viv, but here it is and wait until you read her cascade. This link will take you to both:

  5. pamelasayers

    26/05/2011 at 3:44 pm

    Hi Margo, here is a personal cinquain ( 11 words?). It was fun, if I did it correctly.

    btw I’m a private English teacher here, so my schedule is not like a normal teacher in the public school system here.
    I’m busiest when there are vacations.

  6. vivinfrance

    28/05/2011 at 2:32 am

    I’m glad I found you as I love trying out new poetic forms.

    My attempts at each type of cinquain are here:

  7. margo roby

    28/05/2011 at 9:12 am

    I’m glad you found me too, Viv. I’ll have forms most weeks but I give people breaks every now and then. I’ll head over and read your cinquains.

  8. anjum

    28/05/2011 at 3:55 pm

    Dear M after studying the guidelines I have these lines for you



    double trouble

    wrote too much

    too difficult to control


  9. anjum

    28/05/2011 at 4:16 pm

    ever present
    shining for friends
    sensitive too soon sad

  10. anjum

    28/05/2011 at 4:41 pm

    I Tried a Triad for you-M

    sharing with friends
    writing for fun and joy
    teaching teasing witty and quick
    left out

  11. margo roby

    28/05/2011 at 4:49 pm

    I am glad you have a clever wit and sense of humour, Anjum. Don’t ever be crushed. You are who you are.

  12. anjum

    28/05/2011 at 5:02 pm

    Thank you so much margo You are a true friend-I manage to survive the ups and downs’ with my God Gifted sense of humor -Thank you once again for the wonderful compliment ‘ You are who…” Like I said You understand me ..I was quite down in the dumps but I feel better now.
    And I have written in Cinquain style for the first time, all credit goes to you Ma’am .Please continue to encourage me, dear friend…

  13. neil reid

    26/06/2011 at 10:01 pm

    Hi Margo. Actually I wrote this cinquain and ‘mantra’ some while back, but then forgot, then found again – but didn’t want to seem impolite. Now we’ve had a few more opportunities at hello, appreciation better grown so now suppose you’ll look upon my slight jest with kindly eyes as it’s meant to be! So, as promised…

    I don’t do Cinquains, no not me!


    • margo roby

      26/06/2011 at 10:27 pm

      Kindly? Neil, I am sitting with a big grin while I write this. I’m not sure I have ever enjoyed a blog post more. I got the post in my inbox before I got this [or I opened it first], so you’ll find my comment waiting. I like this: “a few more opportunities at hello, appreciation better grown”. Nicely said. Now, I am going back to reread the post and the poems, because I enjoyed them so.



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