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


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

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