April 2 2017- National Poetry Month: Complete a Piece Sunday: Dueling Cinquains


During April I will try to update daily with new writing exercises and tips, links etc. Go National Poetry Month go!

For today's exercise we'll write a short poem that includes two American Cinquains which offer opposite opinions on something.

An American Cinquain is a variation of a Japanese form, as most very short American forms tend to be. And I'm also not too much of a stickler for form rules, they're more of a guideline at least for rough drafts, and edits, so don't worry too much about the meter, just keep the syllabics intact (2/4/6/4/2), so this is what the Cinquains will look like:

Two syll-
abbles, four syll-
abbles, six syllables,
four syllabbles
two syll.

Or, to show the idea of dueling Cinquains here's something off the top of my head.

from the violet like sun-
spikes toward her heart

The bruise
was healing nicely
he thought, pounding his beer,
recalling mom's

Of course this would be about an abusive relationship, the first describing what a bruise looks like as it begins healing at the edges, and the second is of a man surveying the healing bruise and a little insight into the underlying cause of the abuse. This isn't explicit. A little ambiguity is good for the poetic soul.

Cinquains don't allow for much plot development because of their brief nature, so try to focus on images, and very-much avoid (or, use with caution) words longer than three syllables and phrasal verbs (for instance: "cut down on" could be "reduce" or "curtail" or "slash" or "pared" although depending on the situation, pared may still need the down to be correct, I still think "pared down" is more poetic/interesting than "cut down on")

A few examples of topics that could have opposite opinions would be two witnesses recounting something (a car accident, an insult, a home run, a fight, a war etc), it could be relatives (son/grandfather, mother/daughter, rural cousin/urban cousin etc), it could be someone from an ancient culture and someone from a modern culture examining some aspect of the world with their varied knowledge and perspectives.

This could easily be expanded as well, whether you bounce back and forth between the same two voices/perspectives or you add additional voices, or you could even keep the two you have and approach multiple subjects. A Babylonian and a skate punk could talk about the sky, their parents, their plans for the future, and remember, your title is your billboard, your exposition. If you were to write the aforementioned sequence it could be titled "The Babylonian and the Skate Punk Eat Twinkies and Contemplate Life and Stuff" or something. Long titles can be a great addition to a poem both in catching a reader's eye right away, but also with setting a scene that would otherwise take up the beginning of the poem with exposition when you could begin en media res.

Since we're taking a Japanese inspired form, let's listen to some Japanese music. I love Joe Hisaishi for writing background music, so here is an hour-ish album of his piano music called "Piano Stories 1"