How to Write Cinquain Poems – Five Line Poems

Cinquain Poems

There are two formulas for writing cinquain poems. One formula is for the number of syllables per line, and the other formula is for the types of words, actions, and feelings to incorporate into the poems.

  • Line 1 – two syllables
  • Line 2 – four syllables
  • Line 3 – six syllables
  • Line 4 – eight syllables
  • Line 5 – two syllables

Though I did not strictly adhere to this second formula, I kept it top of mind when writing my cinquain poems.

  • Line 1 – one word for topic
  • Line 2 – two words to describe the topic
  • Line 3 – three words to describe actions relating to the topic
  • Line 4 – words that describe feelings relating to the topic
  • Line 5 – one word that is another word for the topic [source]

Here are two cinquain poems I have authored:

Her nails
scratch the blackboard.
Our skin crawls and inverts.
So shrill! The noise cracks window glass.
Shivers!

* * * * *

My love,
unrequited.
Were he to know my heart,
would he reciprocate or not?
Forlorn.

* * * * *

There are many variations on cinquain poems. Choose a style that suits you.

Learn How to Write a Tanka Poem

tanka poem

Older than Haiku, Tanka is another form of ancient Japanese poetry. Traditional Japanese Tanka is written in one straight line, but in English the line is divided into five syllabic units: 5-7-5-7-7. In the best Tanka poem, the five lines flow seamlessly into one thought. Tanka poems were traditionally written to evoke a moment or mark an occasion with concision and musicality. Even today, Tanka is used to express a real or imagined moment in an author’s time and culture. [source]

I’ve broken the rules a bit, but I’ve kept to the 5-7-5-7-7 format. Below are two pseudo-Tanka poems that I have authored:

Lucy
Her ivory neck,
graceful curve on which he lays
impatient kisses –
inhibitions abandoned,
fidelity surrendered.

* * * * *

The Dramatist
Beguiled by Satan’s work
and spoiled by philosophy,
he loves tragedy –
jealousy and suspicion,
downfall and destruction.

* * * * *

 

Cento Poem – A Poem that Stitches Lines

Cento Poem
A Cento poem is easy to create. A Cento is created by stitching the lines of other poems together to form a brand new poem. Each line must come from a different poetic source.

Below you’ll find a short Cento I’ve created and the source for each line of poem.

* * * *

Down at the water’s edge, at the place, (Bishop)
I dream no more but stare at a hole. (Garrigue)
I’ve spent the last days, furthermore, (Merrill)
surprised at the earth. (Merwin)
I am alive – I guess. (Dickinson)

* * * * *

Line 1 – Elizabeth Bishop » At the Fishhouses
Line 2 – Jean Garrigue » Dialog
Line 3 – James Merrill » Lost in Translation
Line 4 – W.S. Merwin » For the Anniversary of My Death
Line 5 – Emily Dickinson » I am alive – I guess

* * * * *

Get Started:

  1. Make the writing project more challenging:
    • Make your poem rhyme
    • Make your poem longer than ten lines
    • Make sure there is a nice rhythm
    • Make tenses agree
    • Make sure the poem is written all in first person or third person
  2. Give credit to the poets. Include their name next to the line quoted.

Do you like learning about different forms of poetry? Take a look at Tanka – 31 Syllable Poems.