“Concise Writing—The Cinquain” – an article by Karen O’Leary

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Concise Writing—The Cinquain

By Karen O’Leary
JUNE 21, 2019

 

One of the biggest complaints I’ve heard from editors over the years is that they hate poems that ramble on and on. Poetry is communication. Oh, how we cling to our lyrical imagery, a bunch of flowery words that end in a sea of nothingness, leaving the reader with “so what?” The message we are trying to convey should drive the poem. Anything that doesn’t forward that message should be weeded out. It’s not always easy.

I don’t always succeed in trimming enough, but short forms have helped me hone and weed out more of the frill. One of my favorite short forms is the American Cinquain, invented by Adelaide Crapsey. Though there are other ways to write cinquains, I would like focus on the syllable count “2-4-6-8-2” format, for this discussion. These poems are typically un-rhymed. I cannot begin to cover the development of the form over the years.

It’s hard to ramble too much when the structure only gives the poet a total of 22 syllables to work with. The title is pivotal. Those that are seasoned in the art of cinquains often use the title as a sixth line—launching the poem without repeating something that is stated in the five lines.

Below are a couple of examples which I hope will be helpful and that you will enjoy—

 

Enya’s Star

a touch
of magical
words, shining to uplift
souls, blends the grace of heaven’s light
in song

 

Tapestry of Dreams

weaving
rainbow moments
and fields designed with dreams…
the collage reflects a passion
for life

 

I know what you are probably thinking—”she repeated dreams in the title and in the poem.” I was going to choose another example but I wanted to convey the tapestry as a weaving of strands and yet, it was essential that the reader know this is about dreams and desires that go into that passion for life. It is very different than starting that same poem with “Weaving Rainbow Moments” as the title. I hope you agree. Sometimes we get caught up in semantics instead of focusing on the piece as a whole.

I would like to invite you write one cinquain, or more. Please post them as comments – one poem per comment – so that every cinquain becomes a highlight all it is own. This should be approached as an activity to try without worrying about the perfect poem. This way we can enjoy them without being overly critical in hopes that we can learn from each other.

I am grateful to Amarine for inviting me to share time with you at this beautiful journal. She is wonderful to work with. Please consider sharing poems for regular submission too.

 

About the Author:

Karen O’Leary is a writer and editor from West Fargo, North Dakota. She has published poetry, short stories, and articles in a variety of venues including The Literary Librarian, Frogpond, A Hundred Gourds, bear creek haiku, Shemom, Creative Inspirations and NeverEnding Story. She edited an international online journal called Whispers for 5 ½ years. She enjoys sharing the gift of words.

 

© The Literary Librarian 2019

Published by

Amarine Rose Ravenwood

Amarine Rose Ravenwood is one of the pen names of Lorraine Hall. As The Literary Librarian, she is committed to supporting fellow authors in every way she can, from author interviews to poetry hosting, to providing space for book promos and book advertisements, to referring authors to services they are seeking. She is also an author and poetess and loves working with words.

38 thoughts on ““Concise Writing—The Cinquain” – an article by Karen O’Leary”

  1. Thanks, Karen.
    I so appreciate discovering all the possibilities within a constraint.

    for all of us:

    Submission

    poets

    rhyme creators

    composing, erasing

    waiting the critical moment

    Yes, Please!

    Like

    1. Dear Deb,

      Thank you so much for sharing your cinquain for publication here. It’s so good to be in contact with you again. This is a beautiful journal. I hope you will enjoy it.

      Blessings and best wishes,
      Karen

      Like

      1. Dear Deb,

        I forgot to mention this is a wonderful cinquain. I guess I was so happy to see you here that I didn’t comment on the actual piece. I enjoyed this apt view of writing.

        Take care,
        Karen

        Like

    1. Dear Jacob.

      What a wonderful cinquin full of depth for readers to delve into. The third line is the turning point. You are realistic in your view. Thank you for sharing this poem. I hope you continue to be a part of the Literary Librarian.

      Blessings,
      Karen

      Like

    1. Dear Feby,

      What a joy to connect with you again. The imagery in this poem is beautiful. I would like more of that “tranquil repose”. Thank you for sharing your cinquain for the Literary Librarian. I hope to read more of your poetry here.

      Blessings,
      Karen

      Like

    1. Dear Jake,

      Thank you for sharing your cinquain for our journal. I’m glad you found true love. This cinquain may be made stronger by not repeating the title in the first line. Just a thought for you to ponder about. Wishing you the best with all your writing endeavors.

      Blessings,
      Karen

      Like

    1. Hi Jake,

      You are really getting into the cinquain mode. Thank you for sharing another one for readers to enjoy. My thoughts on your first poem apply here too. It is an effort to help each other on the writing journey makes this an opportunity for us to grow. I hope you agree. Best wishes to you.

      Blessings,
      Karen

      Like

    1. Dear Jake,

      The repetition in this poem reduces the effectiveness if you don’t mind the suggestion. Please email me if you don’t want to have suggestions posted here. I think activities are a great way to learn from each other. I would love to see reposts of all your poems. Effective use of short formats eliminates repetition as much as possible unless it builds suspense which is hard to pull off with minimal worlds. Thank you for sharing these poems as I think we all can learn from each other. I seek to keep getting better at my craft; I hope you do too.

      Best wishes,
      Karen

      Like

    1. Dear Jake,

      My previous comments are relevant for this one also. Lines 2-4 work well. If you can find an interesting title to lure the writer in and ignite the poem in the first line, I think you will have a cohesive poem. This the most effective cinquain so far. Try to add some imagery to your poems. I think that will help spring them to life.

      Best wishes and happy writing,
      Karen

      Like

    1. Dear Jake,
      Although this isn’t a cinquain in the 2-4-6-8-2 format I asked for in the directions, it is the best of the poems you’ve written. It works well except for the word nightmarish in the first line which slows the poem down. Thank you for getting into this activity. If you could post rewrites under the original ones with revisions, I think it would be nice for readers to see the growth. I am willing to help you if you would like to email me. I really appreciate your efforts in sharing your words today.

      Happy writing,
      Karen

      Like

    1. Dear Linda.

      I really like the imagery in this poem. Repeating the title in the first line starts the poem off on a slow start. Lines 2-3 are effective. Response, hits me as abrupt not keeping with a feeling of joy. For the most part this is a good poem. If you could make these slight revisions and post this as a reply under your original poem, I think you can help others understand the value of editing. Thank you so much for considering this.

      Best wishes,
      Karen

      Like

  2. Thank you David Fox for the following cinquain–

    Angels
    Dance in Heaven
    Merrily, happily
    To the beat of the Lord’s music
    As one

    David Fox, United States

    Like

  3. Dear David,

    This poem flows well and it is your choice not to title the piece as it works well without. This is a cohesive poem, making the most of this short form. Thank you for sharing it, my friend.

    Blessings,
    Karen

    Like

  4. Thank you Pat for the following cinquain–

    In Time

    sundown,
    gourd rattles shake
    in time, the dance takes hold
    I stand and move slowly toward
    my life

    Pat Geyer, United States

    Like

    1. Dear Pat,

      This is a wonderful poem that suggests something about life in addition to dance. How often people rush by things and really don’t take in the moment of the here and now. Thank you for sharing your poem with us.

      Blessings,
      Karen

      Like

  5. With Words…

    stories
    pour from the heart,
    shaping my life’s essence…
    a journey through illness with faith
    and hope

    By Karen O’Leary, United States

    Like

  6. Thank you , Mary, for the following cinquain–

    Eyewear

    glasses:
    many colors
    the challenge is finding
    one pair to suit all my outfits…
    vision

    By Mary Gunn, Ireland

    Like

    1. Dear Mary,

      I enjoyed reading your poem today and got a chuckle out of it. You hint at a dual meaning of vision which is clever. Thank you for sharing this delightful poem for readers to enjoy.

      Blessings,
      Karen

      Like

  7. Thank you, Isha, for this cinquain–

    INEVITABILITY

    Fleeing
    From the mirror
    In the bright white sunlight
    Reflecting beauty is long gone
    So sad.

    By Isha Wagner, New Zealand

    Like

  8. Dear Isha,

    I can relate to this one. As we age, we do have to adjust to our declining abilities. We still can keep our inner beauty as you do. This is a timeless poem—well done! Wishing you the best always, my friend.

    Blessings,
    Karen

    Like

  9. Thank you , Jack, for the following cinquain–

    Mum’s picture frame

    ink spots
    and glue splatters
    on the dancing fairies
    give it a personality…
    her work

    By Jack Horne, England

    Like

    1. Dear Jack,

      You and your Mum have such a wonderful relationship. Supporting each other, you find so much joy in the simple things in life. I’m glad this art of your mother’s now hangs in your home. Thank you for sharing this cinquain. Loved it!

      Blessings,
      Karen

      Like

  10. The force

    Passion,
    Enrapturing,
    Wild gush that full moon sends,
    For the love of praise dies the truth,
    Adore

    Dr. Upma A. Sharma, India

    Like

    1. Dear Dr. Sharma,

      What a joy to share the Literary Librarian with you. Your poem has a depth that tells a lot about the current climate in our world. It is so sad to see. Yes, in praise many people stretch the truth, then it continues to be stretched as people seek more praise. Thank you for sharing this timely poem. Wishing you the best with your writing.

      Blessings,
      Karen

      Like

  11. Thank you for a very interesting article, Karen. Here is my Cinquain contribution…in this case I reasoned that although the words in the title are to be found in the poem itself, it made sense to give it such a title:

    Silver Betrayal

    as dark
    clouds cumulate
    sol goes into hiding
    until betrayed by a silver
    lining

    Like

  12. Dear Paul,

    Thank you for your kind words on my article and for writing this thought provoking cinquain. It begs for more than one reading to realize the depth carried in this concise poem. Thank you so much for taking part in this activity. Keep up the good writing!

    Blessings,
    Karen

    Like

  13. Thank you Ken for the following–

    Ordonata

    Dragonfly
    Iridescent wings
    Flitting, humming, buzzing
    Guardian of the pond grasses
    Hover

    By Ken Allan Dronsfield

    Like

    1. Dear Ken,

      This is a lovely cinquain with an intriguing title. The imagery works well. Thank you for sharing your gift of words. Best wishes with all your writing endeavors.

      Blessings,
      Karen

      Like

  14. Thank you, Mary , for the following–

    Eyewear

    glasses:
    many colors
    the challenge is finding
    one pair to suit all my outfits…
    vision

    By Mary Gunn, Ireland

    Like

  15. Dear Mary,

    What a delightful poem. Yes, we are sometimes a bit vain. A girl just wants to look her best. Thank you so much for sharing your cinquain for this activity. Wishing you the best with your writing.

    Blessings,
    Karen

    Like

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