Poetry 101: Cinquain

by courtvanhaaren

So, reader, if you saw the word “cinquain” and thought to yourself “I bet this poetry style incorporates five in one way or another” , congratulations! You were not only correct, but had the exact same thought I did, meaning we are kindred spirits!

We are one, reader. 

And, since we are kindred spirits, you and I, you probably will become just as exasperated as I did upon seeing  the various styles that five f-ing lines can actually have while being categorized under this format. See, the term ‘cinquain’ is actually a format classification that can be broken down to… so far, at least ten different formatting and rules.

But fear not, reader! As with a majority of poetry formats, there is one particular style that is used the most, being the American cinquain in this instance.

The American cinquain format is pretty simple. It incorporates both accents and syllables:

Line One: 1 accent, 2 syllables

Line Two: 2 accents, 4 syllables

Line Three: 3 accents, 6 syllables

Line Four: 4 accents, 8 syllables

Line Five: 1 accent, 2 syllables

All combined for a total of 11 accents, 22 syllables.

And yes, since we are kindred spirits, I know the idea of counting accents is frustrating. But be comforted, dear reader, for if you notice above, the pattern can easily incorporate iambic measurement. (daDUM) It doesn’t have to, but iambic will help anyone leery with accents (me; possibly you) compose a poem.

As an idea, here is an iambic scansion:






(So romantic, I know. Sigh.)

I know syllabic counting may seem restricting, so hopefully you will be relieved at this next bit of information: American cinqauins do NOT have to rhyme. Not even slightly. So have at it, you against-the-grain poet.

On the other hand, if rhyming is your preference, poets.org lists three different types of rhyming schemes associated with the cinquain: ababb, abaab, or abccb.

There are so many possibilities with this classification, so in all reality reader, if you write one little stanza consisting of five lines, congratualtions, you have a cinquain.

Until next time

~CM VanHaaren