August 28th, 2005

Egrets Reading

Cinquain Article at Fireweed

A couple days ago, the August issue of Fireweed went online at the MindFire Renew site with an article on the American cinquain written by Terrie Leigh Relf of San Diego. Terrie frequents several of the same poetry e-mail lists that I do, particularly CinquainPoets, Haiku_Unchained, and the Scifaiku list.

To say, that I felt flattered by this article is a bit of an understatement. It's more like I need to worry about my swollen head....

narrow doorway
to fame and fortune
her stuck head

But seriously, Terrie wrote a fine article which explains the cinquain form and I think it's always wonderful to see the cinquain get more exposure. So many people think of the grammar school definition of a cinquain where it was used in elementary school to teach the parts of speech (first line a noun, second line two adjectives, etc). I, myself, had dismissed the cinquain until Ann K Schwader introduced me to the poems of Adelaide Crapsey and the form as she had invented it. This is, of course, why I wrote the two articles Terrie quoted in her article, "Knowing What Counts: The Cinquain" which was in the Spring 2005 issue of SP Quill, a print journal published by Shadow Poetry ( and "Structured Brief Madness: Dark Poetry and the American Cinquain" which I wrote in 2004 for the Horror Writer's of America newsletter, it's online at their website, but is only accessible to HWA members.

Terrie's article also includes four of my cinquains - three previously unpublished cinquains, "Split Shift at the Magic Show", "After They've Grown", and "What We Plant", in addition to "Turquoise Thoughts", which won a Arizona State Poetry Society monthly contest in 2003 and originally appeared in Sandcutters, Volume 37 Issue #2, 2003. "Turquoise Thoughts" was also reprinted in Amaze #4 (

I've often been asked why I enjoy writing cinquains so much. There are several reasons...but I'll focus on two of them today.

I love the brevity of the form. When I write haiku and cinquains, I strive to strip the poetic image in my mind down to its briefest form What is the least number of words that I truly need to convey the image? What words add to that image and which words are completely unnecessary?

Second, I like the structure. This may seem paradoxical when you consider my work in both cinquains and haiku.

When I misunderstood haiku and thought it needed to be a 5-7-5 form, it was always a challenge to write 5-7-5 because English is normally iambic and there was often an extra syllable that just didn't seem to fit. My haiku improved enormously when I started working with kigo and kireji and a sort of phrase-fragment approach that has nothing to do with syllable counting and a better understanding of what I like to read in terms of haiku.

On the other hand, syllable counting can be fun. But, it works better for me in a cinquain because the iambs flow naturally, and the poet can construct a syllablic patterned poem that sounds like natural speech when it is read aloud. To me, that is a test of a good formal poem. If it is a sonnet, does it fit the form of a sonnet, yet sound natural instead of artificial? If it is a cinquain, do the lines break at points that make so much sense that you'd break up the lines that way even if you weren't counting syllables?

This is one of the goals I set for myself when I write. I don't always make it but I'm satisfied with a poem when I do.