I’m often asked, when did you begin to write poetry?
I started writing poetry in elementary school when my teacher announced to our sixth-grade class that her students would begin to compose poems. All of us eleven-year-old were skeptical.
This wonderful teacher showed us how to create a cinquain, an unrhymed, five-line, twenty-two-syllable poem. The form begins with a two-syllable first line (with four syllables for the second, six for the third, eight for the fourth and back to two syllables in the final line). We counted; we wrote. We tried to keep our language spare: to capture a moment, an image or a single emotion. (I went more for a description of a place.)
I knew that cinq means five in French and truly believed I was creating a poem in a French poetic style, or form. This was mind-boggling stuff (me — writing a poem in a French mode!), and very seductive.
It took me many (many) years to find out that the cinquain is actually an American, not French, invention — and devised by a woman.
Here's how to write this popular, and simple, form: you can use syllables (2, 4, 6, 8, 2) or, at its easiest, words:
• The first line (frequently the same as the title) is 1 word.
• The second line uses 2 adjectives (often describing the title).
• The third line contains 3 words, usually gerunds (ending in “ing”) that show action and/or tell the reader more about the poem’s subject.
• The fourth line has 4 words that can show emotions about the subject and may be individual words or a phrase — or they may make a complete sentence.
• The fifth, and last, line is 1 word that’s a synonym of the title or similar to it.
Try you hand at this delightful poetic form.