What exactly is a “cinquain”?
This week, my hive poem was determined not by words submitted, but by a poll I offered to my Instagram followers: sonnet or cinquain? Overwhelmingly, the responses chose cinquain, which is a poem that follows a five-line structure of accentuated syllables and stresses. Similar to the Japanese five-line tanka, the American cinquain was popularized by Adelaide Crapsey in her collection, Verse. Crapsey would give her verses their own title, unlike in European cinquains which usually featured the first line as its title.
The five lines in American cinquains follow these strict criteria: 1, 2, 3, 4, and 1 stresses, and 2, 4, 6, 8, and 2 syllables, respectfully. Most cinquains tend to follow iambic pentameter naturally, but that meter is not a hard and fast requirement. Here’s an example of a cinquain, Crapsey’s poem “Anguish”:
Thy tearless watch
All night but when blue-dawn
Breathes on the silver moon, then weep!
In my version of a cinquain this week, I decided to honor the American form and hold myself to the same syllables and stresses that Crapsey wrote with. I also haven’t written iambic pentameter, or any form of strict meter since…well, probably my undergraduate program years ago. So…I’m not holding myself accountable to perfect meter this week. Instead of writing just one verse, this poem grew into eight cinquains total, forming one long poem:
morning rays upon the concrete shore. the myth of free when death awaits us hour by hour. Oh Lady Liberty, her varied land of endless sting and ring of bell, her eyes they bear what truth? she holds the door with aged hands and waits; some promise lost so long ago creaks through her lips as if to say "I'm sorry but, it's time." At last– and so we grow in/twain her arms with hope the wasps won't swarm us there. They hover close, steel wing and rust, but quickly shake to sand. and in the wake of war within our family trees, we bear the cost of all we lost through lies– we birth this fertile ground anew, for all to bloom to love to die to rise to thrive despite: all are free, to follow each and every vision here beneath these moonlit mountain skies of home.
This piece, for me, began in such a hopeless place, with such contrast: the morning and the concrete and the promise of a new day, but swift death lurking still. Unbeknownst to me, this poem brought me to a more hopeful ending; wasps falling to sand, lies succumbing to truth, fertile ground enough for everyone to have their sky. I titled mine in true Crapsey fashion, and to balance this strange line inequity, added one more line, a final word & syllable: home. I also added some of my own spacing to add emphasis and to balance the cadence and rhythm of each verse.
All in all, this was an interesting challenge with an unexpected lens of patriotism (bear in mind, I did write these verses after watching Joe Biden swear-in live on that unforgettably enormous Bible…)
About hive poems
Hive poems are poems I write weekly with the help of my friends on Instagram. Sometimes I restrict myself to word banks using nouns and verbs people submit to me, or I run a poll so that you can choose my poetic form of the week. Want to be a part of this madness? I’ll be posting call-outs for suggestions every Sunday in my Instagram stories.
Want to make your own?
Write one five-line verse this week! Don’t feel tied down to the strict syllables, stresses, and iambic pentameter of the American cinquain; here are some other types of five-line verse to try:
Didactic cinquain: Instead of limiting yourself to syllables or stresses, each line contains a set number of words: 1 word, 2 words, 3 words, 4 words, and 1 word. Here’s an example:
The best way to write poetry is by stealing someone's words.
Reverse cinquain: flip a regular cinquain by having each line contain: 1 syllable, 8 syllables, 6 syllables, 4 syllables, and 2 syllables.
Mirror cinquain: Write two stanzas, one a regular cinquain followed by a second reverse cinquain.
Tanka: This type of Japanese poetry features five-lines of unrhymed verse structured in a set syllabic pattern: 5 syllables, 7 syllables, 5 syllables, 7 syllables, and 7 syllables.
For an extra challenge, keep yourself to iambic pentameter, write multiple stanzas, or make up a rhyme scheme. If you feel so inclined, share your poem with me, I’d love to read what you write :)
Final thoughts & shareables
Now does feel like the time to lean more into hope. Not only because of our nation’s fresh start, but as we come to the close of January. I’ve been enjoying Victoria Chang’s Obit, as well as beginning to flesh out some research for starting a small press this year. I’m also gearing up to submit more poetry to publications as well as compile my two collections for submission.
As far as pandemic-coping goes, I always come back to art. I’m almost completely finished filling up my current notebook with doodles, and hope I can buy a new one soon from the local art store to replace it.
To challenge myself even more this issue, I thought I’d design something you could save to read later or share with a friend.
If you liked this issue, why not forward to a friend that might like a little poetry in their inbox?
I frequently post stanzas on Instagram, as well as my thoughts on social justice, capitalism, and the literary world on Twitter. Let’s bee friends virtually and talk books, art, and why I still waste time watching the Bachelor year after year after year…