Don’t Refrain From Trying A Cinquain

 

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The original card a fundraiser for the Isle of Iona

 

When I first began teaching creative writing it was a volunteer in my children’s schools. A steep learning curve for me as well as for them!

But it did encourage me to do more with my desire to write including a return to university aged 57, to achieve a Masters in Writing.

The early experiences in schools and community groups inspired me to become qualified to teach in Neighbourhood Houses. I have been privileged to be with and help other passionate writers for over 20 years.

A wonderful journey, exploring the power of words and learning new ways to express feelings, observations, and thoughts – playing with genre and form and having fun with the flexibility of the English language.

And So I Discovered The Cinquain!

  1. The cinquain is a five line poem that follows a pattern.
  2. Cinq is the French word for five.
  3. Cinquains do not rhyme.
  4. The most commonly found is an American derivative of the haiku and tanka.
  5. It consists of five lines, of 2, 4, 6, 8 and 2 syllables respectively.

 

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UNSW image Barry Eggleton

Although this form appears simple, it isn’t necessarily easy to write well, or with the subtlety or nuance, many people expect from poetry.

However, it is a good starting point for anyone intimidated by ‘Poetry’ – perhaps harbouring feelings of inadequacy (or nursing a dislike) – because of what or how they learned at school.

Form poetry like the limerick and haiku provides a useful framework for the inexperienced writer to experiment with words and experience some early success.

It doesn’t matter if the lines don’t have exactly the right number of syllables – what is important is that the writer has created a word picture and has had access to a framework for support.

I use pictures for inspiration, making it even easier! Another way of recording memories…

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The traditional cinquain may be based on a syllable count but modern cinquains use a formula of word type.

  • line 1 – one word (noun) a title or name of the subject
  • 
line 2 – two words (adjectives) describing the title
  • line 3 – three words (verbs) describing an action related to the title
  • 
line 4 – four words describing a feeling about the title, a complete sentence
  • 
line 5 – one word referring back to the title of the poem

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Writing A Cinquain

  •  On the first line choose a subject
  • On the second line, write two adjectives describing the subject
  • On the third line, write three action words (usually ending with ‘ing’) to describe what the subject might do
  • On the  fourth line, write a phrase describing what the subject may mean to you or others
  • On the fifth line, write a synonym for the subject

It can even work for personal stories, themes or special days like Mother’s Day!

 

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Mum and me 1953!

 

If you Google “what is a cinquain” it will say:

A cinquain is a five-line poem that was invented by Adelaide Crapsey. She was an American poet who took her inspiration from Japanese haiku and tanka.

A collection of poems, titled Verse, was published in 1915 and included 28 cinquains.

Originally, Crapsey created the form for the American cinquain with five lines.
There were stresses per line –
• The first line has one stress, which was usually iambic meter with the first syllable unstressed and the second stressed.
• Line two has two stresses.
• Line three has three stresses.
• Line four has four stresses.
• Line five has one stress.

Following the invention of this form, Crapsey made changes and included a certain number of syllables per line. The most popular form I mentioned above of 2, 4, 6, 8 and 2 syllables.

Even though iambic feet were typically used in these cinquains, it was not a requirement of the structure.

Aaron Toleos hosts a cinquain blog and for his master’s theses studied Crapsey and the various forms of cinquain that existed prior to her “American cinquain” –

Adelaide Crapsey did not invent the five-line poem. The Sicilian quintain, the English quintain, the Spanish quintella, the Japanese tanka, and the French cinquain all predate hers. What she did invent, however, is a distinct American version of the five-line poem. Inspired by Japanese haiku and tanka and based on her advanced knowledge of metrics, she believed her form “to be the shortest and simplest possible in English verse…

Her interest in Japanese poetry has also led some critics to link her to the Imagist movement that became popular shortly after she died and was led by the likes of Ezra Pound, H. D., and Amy Lowell.

Louis Untermeyer, editor for many years of Modern American Poetry, for example, called her “an unconscious Imagist.” Although her untimely death precluded any chance for her to collaborate with these poets, Crapsey was undoubtedly influenced by some of the same factors that fomented their movement including a desire to pull back from some of the excesses of the Georgian poets. Like Crapsey’s cinquains, Imagist poetry is characterized by the precise use of imagery and economy of language…

Although modeled after Eastern forms such as the haiku and tanka which are almost never titled, Crapsey titled all of her cinquains. Furthermore, her titles were not casual but usually functioned as active “sixth lines” which conveyed important meaning to the poem

Although it was likely a matter of fashion rather than a meaningful poetic decision, Crapsey used initial capitalization exclusively for each of the cinquain’s five lines.

Aaron quite rightly asks – How could the Crapsey cinquain be the American cinquain when no one is writing cinquains in a way that is consistent with the formula she established?

The form has devolved into something much simpler: a verse of a 2 / 4 / 6 / 8 / 2 syllabic structure or a simple form based on word type, ‘an exercise in metrics regardless of meaning“.

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Variety Spicing The Writer’s Life

The term cinquain is also used for any five-line stanza, along with quintain, quintet, and pentastich.

John Drury’s, The Poetry Dictionary, second edition, by Weiter’s Digest Books 2006, defines key terms helpful to every would-be poet:

quintain – a five-line stanza, sometimes called

a cinquain (although the term is now usually applied to a stanza developed by Adelaide Crapsey),

a quintet (although the term suggests a musical ensemble), or

a pentastich (especially if the stanza is unrhymed). Various rhymed schemes are possible.

Examples are given of aabab, ababa, ababb and a reminder that the limerick is a quintain!

IMAGISM – a poetic movement invented by Ezra Pound around 1909 and intended as an antidote to the rhetorical excesses of Victorian poetry and the pastoral complacency of Georgian verse.
Pound, along with Hilda Dolittle and Richard Aldington announced three principles:
1. Direct treatment of the ‘thing’ whether subjective or objective
2. To use absolutely no word that does not contribute to the presentation
3. As regarding rhythm: to compose in the sequence of the musical phrase, not in sequence of a metronome.

Imagist poems strongly influenced by haiku and other eastern verse, were short, written in free verse, and presented images without comment or explanation.

Amy Lowell later led the movement, which expired near the end of WW1

In her own cinquains, Crapsey allowed herself to add or subtract a syllable from any given line. (That’s what is great about making the rules – you can break them!)

And really the resemblance to what is generally regarded as the cinquain seems tenuous…

Niagara                                                          
Seen on a night in November

How frail
above the bulk
of crashing water hangs,
Autumnal, evanescent, wan,
The moon.

Snow

Look up…
From bleakening hills
Blows down the light, first breath
Of wintry wind…look up, and scent
The snow!

Adelaide Crapsey 1878-1914

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To Sum Up

At the most basic level, a cinquain is a five line poem or stanza.  The poem has one topic and the details describe the topic’s actions and feelings.

A Cinquain can be written about any topic, unlike traditional haiku which focuses on nature or seasons.

Choose any of the methods mentioned above – or follow Adelaide Crapsey’s style – and perhaps create a book of verse of memories, travel experiences, observations of daily life… most importantly just ‘have a go’… you’re a poet and didn’t know it!

Share a memory, make a statement, express yourself in a simple stanza…

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Flex Writing Muscles With Flash Fiction Fun

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Mordialloc beach storm brewing

I can’t believe the term holidays are almost over and my  list of ‘things to do’ has morphed into ‘things I should have done’.

I hear my Mother’s voice ‘the road to hell is paved with good intentions...’ Mum loved quotes: proverbs, Bible texts, aphorisms, lines from poems or classical literature and it’s amazing how many come to mind – imprinted on my brain like the times tables from school.

C’est la vie

At least, I’ve almost finished preparing my lessons for the four classes starting soon, and I’ve caught up with some friends, but the clearing of clutter to renovate the shed didn’t happen, nor clearing the boxes of papers from my study.

Maybe spring cleaning will work …

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While filing away old lessons and researching and planning new ones I came across pieces of writing I’d written in class or on the train to work. Such a welcome distraction. The inevitable editing and polishing began until in some cases the original words barely recognised.

I don’t need any excuse to play with words or write and often when I come across a poem or story I can’t remember what the prompt was or why I wrote it!

Like this poem from 2o12, which was buried among notes in a lesson about dialogue!

Sea Dance
Mairi Neil

Shattered nerves soothed
By waves in a slow waltz
One two three four
One two three four
Lapping at feet, teasing the sand
The glittering sun
A silver ball suspended
From an azure ceiling
The vast ocean
A mirrored dance floor
A crooning breeze snatches
Troubles away
To where white sails flutter
And dolphins dream
One two three four
One two three four
Waves in a slow waltz
Soothe shattered nerves.

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Of course, the recent Federal Election and the prospect of a hung parliament is an entertaining (and worrying) distraction. Listening to all the politicians putting their particular spin on an extraordinary turn of events will no doubt fuel many writers, albeit comedians.

However, what it will mean for Australia is anybody’s guess and it is certainly keeping journalists busy. They have no trouble filling the 24 hour news cycle. The rest of us get on with life and hope for the stability promised.

An Election Limerick

Malcolm Turnbull, the PM in Oz
Who decided to be the LNP boss
Well, he turned out a dud
Just like Kevin Rudd
Their poor judgement Australia’s loss

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I discovered a piece of flash fiction with a title that seemed to fit the election result so will share it to show what can come from a prompt I have used a few times over the years in classes. And like most fiction there is a lot of truth because here is a link to where I got my original idea.

Feel free to ‘have a go’ if the prompt triggers a story or poem:

The Writing Prompt

You were walking on the beach this morning and came across a bottle with a note in it.
Were you alone?
Why were you at the beach? Is that important?
Who put the message in the bottle?
Where did the bottle originate?
What does the note say?
How long was the bottle in the water?
Will you have to do something/take some action?
What are the consequences?

The story you write can be fantasy, adventure, horror, humorous, historical, mystery, romance…

Mixed Messages
Mairi Neil

Janet scuffed the sand oblivious to the cry of seagulls and crash of incoming tide. The dullness of leaden clouds grew darker by the minute. Hunched over with hands stuck deep inside her Duffel coat’s pockets, she struggled against the wind.

Straight from the Arctic – cold and frigid – the words Ben used to describe her last night.

She sidestepped a surge of white foam, stumbled over a green bottle vomited ashore with other debris. The jolt made her focus for a moment on something other than her own misery, then she noticed a scrap of paper inside the bottle.

She peered through the sand encrusted glass. The bottle, a peculiar shape with glass reminiscent of the bedside lamp inherited from her grandmother and supposedly from the 1800s.

Wary of touching anything the sea threw up, Janet used her booted foot to roll the bottle free of seaweed and entangled driftwood.

The sea harboured unpleasant creatures; animals that bite and sting.

Janet shuddered, remembering the stab from the stone fish she’d unwittingly stood on as a child. The pain of poisonous spines, the brush with death and disaster – a story her mother retold to anyone who’d listen. A story reinforcing Janet’s anxieties – not just of the sea, but fear of anything unknown.

Scaredy cat! Scaredy cat! The chants of school bullies still hurt 30 years later.

‘You’re scared of your own shadow.’ Another taunt Ben threw at her last night when she offered reasons why she didn’t want to travel to Doha.

‘Not shadows, Ben! Bombs and terrorists – no place is safe over there.’

‘Do you realise how much money is on offer? The lifestyle we can live if we move there?’
It always came down to money with Ben.

Emotion almost choked her as she picked up the bottle before the angry sea reclaimed it. She strode to the bluestone wall separating sand and promenade and sat on the cold bricks. A nearby stick ideal to dig out the weathered cork.

A few shakes and canny manipulation meant the note fell into her hand. Faded paper and blurred ink. However, the scrawled letters clear: HELP!

Janet began to shake, her imagination haywire, heart thudding.

Was someone captive on a ship? Abandoned on an island? Robinson Crusoe sprang to mind – when was that written? Janet tried to remember.

How far away from Australia was the island? What about pirates? Treasure Island’s murderous crew not that far-fetched. Plenty of people imprisoned, tortured and abandoned on the high seas over the years.

Today, the media full of refugees fleeing horror, needing help. How many migrant ships lost at sea? People seeking a new life in another land, survivor or survivors struggling in a lifeboat, minimum supplies gone, burning sun blistering skin, salt water driving the occupants mad…

She breathed deeply, inhaling the freshening wind. Ben always accused her of indecision and procrastination. She straightened her shoulders and with bottle and note in hand, started towards the town.

I’ll call into the police station first. What if they think my ideas fanciful? Tell me they have too much important work to do regarding border security. They’ll dismiss the note as a prank. Maybe accuse me of mischief!

Better to go to the local museum. Double check if the bottle is old or a replica. Ease the fear that someone isn’t desperate for help.

A sixth sense made Janet turn to stare seawards. With the worry over Ben and distraction of her find, she hadn’t scanned the bay this morning for ships heading for the city or leaving for distant oceans.

She loved speculating about their journeys – a not-too distant ancestor had been a sea captain – ‘the sea’s in our blood’ her father always said.

A white speck on the horizon moved fast becoming bigger like an expanding balloon.
A speedboat?
Was that a hand waving – arm pointing?

Janet looked around. No one else on the beach this dreary winter’s day. Even the regular dog walkers avoided the icy weather.

She edged towards the sea like a child worried about seeing the store Santa. The boat bumped over breakers, mounted waves, stayed on course, heading her way. Two people visible – one waving, shouting and pointing. At the bottle?

Her bottle.
How did they know?

A minute later, the boat skidded and juddered onto the sand. A sleek motorboat equipped with the latest technological wizardry. One of the men had binoculars around his neck, the other an earpiece hooked into a radio.

‘The bottle please, madam,’ said the man with binoculars, reaching out a gloved hand.

‘We’re from the CSIRO,’ chimed his companion.

‘The bottle. CSIRO,’ Janet repeated their words. Confused and flustered, she felt an anxiety attack beginning, chest tightening, breathing difficult. Heat in her chest moved up to her neck burning her face. Her legs quivered.

‘How did?’ she began to speak, but gloved hands interrupted.

‘Inside the bottle, there’s a tracking device stuck to the bottom.’

Janet hesitated as if he spoke Swahili. She reluctantly held the bottle up for examination. A glimmer of sunlight managed to break through the bruised clump of clouds now suffocating the foreshore. She noticed a tiny pebble, shook the bottle, it refused to dislodge. A transmitter?

‘Oh,’ she whispered.

Her imagination flew to spies, espionage, invading armies, dredged up a story her grandfather told about the war; explosive devices masked as innocuous wrack washed ashore. Ordinary people blown up because of their curiosity.

She pushed the bottle into outstretched gloved hands. The driver of the boat began to speak.

‘We’re testing the power of waves and…’ his explanation cut short by gloved hands pressuring his shoulder.

Janet retreated a few metres before turning and running towards the promenade. She slowed to catch her breath and shove her shaking hands into pockets.

Wait ’til Ben hears about this, she thought. Will he believe me?

She spun around to get more details about the men, but the boat was already speeding out to sea.

What just happened? What if they were lying? Were they scientists or Defence personnel? Were they even Australian?

A gust of wind whisked her sigh seawards.

She wouldn’t tell Ben. Why invite another lecture of what she should have done? How the world had changed since 9/11 – Australia included.

Ben can go to Doha or anywhere else for that matter. On his own. Stay there for all she cared. Amass his millions at the expense of the poor.

The wind died down, and the dark clouds scudded out to sea as if being towed by the speedboat. Janet threw her head back and laughed, surprised at the sound.

She hadn’t heard herself laugh or felt so relaxed in a long time.

It was over between her and Ben. No indecision or procrastination now!

The winter sun a pale promise in the clearing sky as she strolled home.

 

Today you are you.

That is truer than true.

there is no one alive

who is truer than you!

Dr Seuss

A Stroll by the Sea Inspires: A Carousel of Sand, Surf, Shells, Sea Gulls, Sail and Serendipity…

‘Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.’

William Wordsworth

Today, as I walked along the foreshore with my ‘gypsy’ daughter I realised how privileged we are to live in Mordialloc; my home for over 30 years. The bayside setting has inspired me to write poetry, prose, plays, memoir and a mystery novel – alas, the latter still unfinished!

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mordy beach near pier december 2014information on mordialloc creek

The Creek and seaside has a long rich history especially before white settlement. Mordialloc Writers’ Group celebrated this in our fifth anthology, A Rich Inheritance, published 2007.

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cairn to macdonald in mordy cairn to first white settler of mordialloc

A village-like atmosphere still exists in Mordy although there is a constant struggle against property developers and those who want to replicate St Kilda and even Queensland’s Gold Coast. High rise development would destroy our lovely foreshore. Fortunately, those who value our environment still outnumber those who don’t, plus we have some excellent associations with a long history of  protecting our parks and the beach.

Mordialloc-Beaumaris Conservation League has worked hard since its formation in 1969 and local resident Mary Rimington OAM, a prolific letter-writer to the newspapers and politicians, ensures residents are informed on issues of sustainability and the need to protect  the environment. Now, in her mid 80s, Mary is still a community gem with a caring heart and discerning mind; losing none of her determination to fight for the community in which we live!

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fishing mordi cyclists beach road

Beach Road shadows the foreshore and in the summer, cars, motorbikes, and bicycles, as well as the usual buses, jam the thoroughfare as if it were a major highway. The blare of car horns and occasional angry words punctuate the normal traffic din as people journey to and fro, seeking the fun and enjoyment of warmer weather. On a weekend when cyclists race between Frankston and St Kilda tempers have been known to flare at the behaviour of some dubbed as ‘lycra louts’.

Haiku inspired by the sea…

Birds soaring seawards                                     Deserted barbecues
Tossed by winter thermals                               Empty swings motionless
Aerial ballet                                                          Winter by the sea

The full moon’s glow                                          Late spring afternoon
Suffused across the sea                                     Mordialloc Pier fishing
A mirror of calm                                                  Eskies overflowing

Pelican circling                                                    Quivering palm trees
A well-designed airplane                                   sun sets in Mordialloc
from Mother Nature                                           to chatter of birds

Sunset or sunrise                                                Hot humid evening
The sea a wondrous playground                      Tossing turning breathlessly
For foreshore frolics                                           Longing for sea breeze

The sea melds with sky                                      Saturday sojourns
Dark shore dreams of light caress                   Lycra louts and fitness freaks
And whimsy clouds flee                                     Negotiate roads

Fiery sky aglow                                                   Holidays at last!
Warning to sailors at sea                                  Slippery paths to the sea
Lighthouse their saviour                                  Lead to splashing fun

Cliff top turbulence                                           Water licks boat side
An explosion of feathers                                  Anglers and fish mesmerised
Gulls blown out to sea                                      dinner table delight

Turtles seek refuge                                            Prisoners of war
But the crunch of boot is not                          Glass bottle thrown overboard
The sound of safety                                           Unread message sinks

Pelican perches                                                  Dolphins dance and squeal
Atop electricity pole                                          Fishermen sail into port
Fishing boats bring lunch                                to feeding frenzy

Pelicans leave pier                                             Empty rowing boat
aerial acrobatics                                                 Abandoned on pebbled beach
Sightseers enjoy the show                                Yearning for summer

Gusty gales blow boats                                      The rolling sea soothes
Forceful waves and jagged reefs                      like a mother’s caress
Gnashing angry teeth                                         banishing pain

The walking trail parallel to Beach Road becomes crowded and sometimes dangerous with family cyclists, dog walkers, joggers, parents pushing strollers, keep fit enthusiasts and tourists ambling the track to soak up the beauty of the bay. Although Australia, one of the driest countries on earth is considered a sunburnt country and land of ‘droughts and flooding rains’ most of the population has settled on the coast and can identify with the sea.

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In 2010, I took part in an amazing project organised by the Red Room Company of Sydney that became Sea Things Online Exhibition. Poets were invited to write about the sea and I took a bundle of submissions from the writer’s group and class at Mordialloc, met with other poets down at the docks and presented the poems to the captain and crew of a huge ship. The poems were put in the Captain’s postbag and freighted all around Australia, added to by other poets wherever the ship docked. The bag eventually opened at a special ceremony in Sydney and poems posted online. A fabulous writing exercise, but also building a sense of community. Down at the docks I met Avril, another poet from Frankston, and we keep bumping into each other at book launches for anthologies where our poems have been included. The experience of being on the bridge of the ship with a view similar to the rooftop of a multi-storey building certainly a day to remember  – and write about!

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For many locals, including me, the beach on a very hot day is better avoided; instead the evening or early morning become favourite times to walk the foreshore, or the cooler days, when a winter breeze chills the air and spasmodic rain enlivens the scent of tea-tree, eucalypts and banksias. In cooler months, the population of Mordialloc returns to normal levels; the sandy shore and paved promenade dotted with only a handful of people – mostly dog walkers tracing their path along the water edge, health fanatics, or tourists visiting locals.

Memories of the beach provide many experiences to use in writing, especially adding the senses: being rocked in the slight waves, walking and getting soaked to the seat of my pants by an expectedly deep wave slapping my ankles trying to drag me seaward, splashing in shallows and feeling the sand shift, grit between my toes, the crunch of shells, the pong of seaweed, the squeal of gulls, the taste of salt, watching a sunset from the pier, and serendipitously running into friends who happen to be enjoying the breathtaking beauty too. We chat and share stories as part of a community, appreciating the feeling of belonging. Life can be unexpectedly kind and beautiful, just when you need it most.

Rebirth

Lying on the beach
waves roll over me,
smoothing
Life’s pain

the warm waves
caress and massage
manipulating
moulding
malleable me

until colder waves
carve and chip,
with each sharp
intake of breath
a new shape emerges

I am reborn

(published page seventeen Issue 2, Celapene Press, 2005)

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