"Tanka and Haiku Come to America

Before the combined efforts of women, centered around Amy Lowell, to bring haiku to North America, another woman, Adelaide Crapsey, was, through her independent study, already ahead of them.

 In 1908, while in Europe with her father, she decided to return to Rome, where she had lived in 1904 - 1905, staying in Rome, London and Paris until 1911. While in London she studied English prosody at the British Museum in 1910. Perhaps as early as in 1909, the shy and sensitive Adelaide had read A Hundred Verses from Old Japan, William N. Porter's translation of the Hyakunin Isshu anthology and From the Eastern Sea by Yone Noguchis. In her notebooks she lists eleven tanka and eight haiku she had translated from Anthologie de la litt`erature japonaise des origines au XXe si`ecle from Marcel Revon. So influenced, Adelaide developed her own poetic system which she called cinquain.

These short, unrhymed poems consisting of twenty-two syllables distributed as 2, 4, 6, 8, and 2, in five lines were related to, but not copied from Japanese literary styles. Though she devised this form around 1909-1910, most of the 28 of which we have record that she accomplished were written between 1911 and 1914. An early death, on October 8, 1914, from tuberculosis prevented her from exploring the genre.

Published posthumously, in 1915, (by Claude Bragdon, Manas Press) with her other works as, Verse, cinquains came to be well-known only through the efforts of Carl Sandburg in his anthology, Cornhuskers, 1918, and Louis Utermeyer's Modern American Poetry, 1919. However, the interest in her poetry became so great that in 1922, Alfred A. Knopf published a second edition which was reprinted in 1926 and 1929 and a third edition was published in 1934 and reprinted in 1938.

Adelaide Crapsey is credited, not only with these first experiments with Japanese literature, but she is recognized as one of the earliest Imagists. Through the cinquain never became as popular as either tanka or haiku later became, it has outlived the Imagist Movement and continues to be used by tanka and haiku poets, notably Ruby Schackleford of Wilson, North Carolina ~~~"

Definitions of Cinquain on the Web:

  • a five-line stanza with successive lines containing two, four, six, eight and two syllables
  • can mean any 5 line verse. However it also describes a diamond form similar to the Diamante. But the rules for the Cinquain are less strict.
  • In poetry, a cinquain or quintain is a five line stanza, varied in rhyme and line, usually with the rhyme scheme ababb. An example of cinquain is the following stanza from Robert Browning's poem "Porphyria's Lover": Murmuring how she loved me she Too weak, for all her heart's endeavour, To set its struggling passion free From pride, and vainer ties dissever, And give herself to me for ever.

Cinquain Poem

A cinquain is a 5-line poem with this structure:

1st  line - 1 word  -  noun
2nd line - 2 words - describe the noun

3rd line - 3 words - actions

4th line - 4 words - feelings

5th line - 1 word  -  noun - another word for first word


AMAZE: The Cinquain Journal is dedicated to developing, promoting, and publishing cinquains in the traditional form established by Adelaide Crapsey. We are also very interested in the development and publication of innovative forms of the cinquain, such as mirror cinquains and cinquain cycles or sequences.

Please click here to see how this magazine came to be named AMAZE.

To read the current issue, please go to the Winter 2006  issue. Previous issues are archived here.

For biographical sketches about the writers in the current issue, please go to our Poets & Authors page.

For information on the cinquain form and its history, please go to The Cinquain Page. The Cinquain Page is designed to be the most comprehensive internet resource for the cinquain poet, the Web's prime resource page on cinquains



Poetry in Forms Series: Cinquain

Posted by @ 11:27 am. Filed under About Writing (t) Poetry Writing (t)

Cinquain, despite its French name, is an American poetry form that can be traced back to Adelaide Crapsey. Crapsey, influenced by Japanese haiku, developed this poetic system and used it to express brief thoughts and statements. Other poets who popularized the form were Carl Sandburg and Louis Utermeyer. While the form does not have the extensive popularity of haiku, it is often taught in public schools to children because of the forms brief nature.

Most cinquain poems consist of a single, 22 syllable stanza, but they can be combined into longer works. A cinquain consists of five lines. The first line has two syllables, the second line has four syllables, the third line has six syllables and the fourth line has eight syllables, the final line has two syllables:






The line length is the only firm rule, but there are other guidelines that people have tried to impose from time to time.

Cinquain Guidelines

  • Write in iambs (Two syllable groupings in which the first syllable is unstressed and the second syllable stressed. For Example: i DRANK she SMILED we TALKED i THOUGHT) For the last line of the cinquain, however, both syllables should be stressed, NICE BAR.
  • Write about a noun. Cinquains generally fail if you try to make them about emotions, philosophies or other complex subjects. They should be about something concrete.
  • Don't try to make each line complete or express a single thought. Each line should flow into the next or the poem will sound static.
  • Cinquains work best if you avoid adjectives and adverbs. This doesn't mean you can't have any, but focus on the nouns and the verbs. This almost always works best in a cinquain.
  • The poem should build toward a climax. The last line should serve as some sort of conclusion to the earlier thoughts. Often, the conclusion has some sort of surprise built into it.

One possible, but not required, format is as follows:

Line 1: Title Noun

Line 2: Description

Line 3: Action

Line 4: Feeling or Effect

Line 5: Synonym of the initial noun.

If you look at my examples, I prefer to use the noun as a separate title, not as part of the cinquain. Also, only one of the three poems is written in iambs.

Sample Cinquains

Tucson Rain

The smell
Everyone moves
To the window to look
Work stops and people start talking
Rain came

Opening Game

Game time
Season looked good
National champions
We told ourselves as we sat down
Not now

New Bar

The street I went
To drink at the new bar
I drank she smiled we talked I thought
Nice bar

Additional Tips

A poem with Love in the title (or Destiny, Hate, or other HUGE themes) already has two strikes against it (and I like love poems).

The bigger your point, the more important the details are.

Say what you want to say and let your readers decide what it means.

Feel free to write a bad poem.

Develop your voice. Get comfortable with how you write.

Don't explain everything.

Untitled poems are lazy. They're like unnamed children. Obviously their parent doesn't care about them.

People will remember an image long after they've forgotten why it was there.

That one perfect line in a thirty line poem may be what makes it all worthwhile, or it may be what makes the rest of the poem bad. Keep an eye on it.

There are many excuses not to write. Try using writing as an excuse not to do other things.








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