Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Tuesday Cinquain

This week I took the cinquain for a test drive: a poetic form consisting of five lines, with the lines containing 2, 4, 6, 8 and 2 syllables respectively.

I read about the form online, but aside from learning it should be pronounced sin-cane (and here's me Italianing it up as chin-kwain) I had nothing but syllable counts in my head when I approached the blank page.

My first efforts were haiku-tinged: observations of nature and change.  But I quickly realised how the 2-4-6-8-2 structure (gradual build up; sudden end) lends itself to bathos (or bad jokes)...

Yellow Pages
The wind.
A northerly.
Where’s my double glazing?
You said mid-Feb, it’s now April.
This blows.

What followed were more experiments in punchlines...

At work;
At Miss Saigon;
At the men’s urinals;
At the summit of Mount Kaukau:

I also sold my soul to enjambment and just used the syllable counts as a signal when to break a line.  The results were basically sentence-long observations parading as poems...

Ken wants
To ask his wife
To change the order she
Makes his sandwiches, but he knows
He won’t.

But in the end I had to choose one poem, and one approach to the cinquain, to hold up as my week's work (all 22 syllables of it).

My choice is based on a photo I saw roughly a year ago in the Museo del Fin del Mundo (Museum of the End of the World) in Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina.  I wrote the cinquain without seeing this photo again, but thanks to the wonders of the internet, I found a copy (on the 7th page of Google Image results). I'll link to it (here) so you can compare how my memory matches up with the actual image, but I'll let the poem stand on its own in this post...

Photo from inside a sinking ship
The world
Slanted, askew;
The lighthouse, the island,
A trapezoid of flooding light:

Cinquain summary

1. Short, so you can trot out five or six in no time at all (quality aside)
2. Rigid structure due to syllable counts to guide the composition process
3. Built for bathos

1. The first line, being just 2 syllables, is quite restrictive. You're pretty committed to using a noun, but there are lots of single words that exceed two syllables that are unusable.
2. There's a novelty element which seems difficult to shake.  Haiku often suffers from the same thing.  If you wanna get cinquains published, I'd wager you're better off making a chain of cinquains (some suggestions here).
3. I'm not sure I'll ever be confident I'm pronouncing it right to mention the form in conversation!

1 comment:

angelfixer said...

very helpful, thanks. wish i was inspired enough to write a cinquain in reply, but have deadline to write some poetry as a pre-req before a uni campus course. pronunciation tip helpful also, i was sin-quaning it.
have to say i liked your other cinquains better than your final choice, but it's all subjective
and i say, 'i have to say' because i lack the ability to leave well enough alone. peace!