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A Diet of Poetry

In my last post, I wrote about using poetry in my creative writing classrooms, and how that changed my fiction writing. I'm continuing my diet of poetry theme by sharing an example of a poem that can be used for tightening up one’s prose. It's great for developing a character or setting, or simply for having fun. It’s called a cinquain. Cinquains are five-line poems, there are several styles to choose from. Some use rhymes, some require a certain number of syllables, and others use specific parts of speech in a particular pattern. The latter is my favorite and the one I’m going to use here. Take a look at the pattern below. It’s easy to follow.

Cinquain Pattern

Line1: A noun

Line2: Two adjectives

Line 3: Three -ing words

Line 4: A phrase

Line 5: Another word for the noun

I usually start out by having my elementary students write their first cinquain about an animal. What kid doesn’t like animals?


Furry, intelligent

Licking, barking, jumping

Always there for me


Easy, huh? Slap a title on that puppy (no pun intended) and you have a poem, and a child who feels empowered by his or her writing. If I were in a classroom, we’d move into writing about ourselves.


Imaginative, daydreamer

Scribbling, reading, outlining

Bringing life to the page


With older kids, we experiment with cinquains as advertising copy. It’s a kind of eye-opener for them when they see it expressed this way. It’s also a great conversation starter about how we don’t always notice the role writing plays in our everyday lives—the back of cereal boxes, video game instructions, a recipe, and so on.


Stylish, cool

Walking, running, sprinting

Gives me happy feet


Are you seeing the connection to prose? Can you tell how this simple five-line poem could be used as inspiration for creating a character? What about world developing? What would it look like to describe an underwater city using a cinquain? How about the weapon the murderer used on that dark and stormy night? This kind of tight writing will force a writer to zero in on words that carry the most impact. If you can only have 2 adjectives, you’re going to choose the ones that will elicit an image or sensory reaction from your reader. But be careful. Cinquains are addictive.

Here’s one last cinquain. This one is for a character in a YA manuscript sitting on my Dropbox cyber-shelf. I plan to take it off the shelf one day and blow the dust off of it. Maybe this poem will motivate me to do that sooner rather than later.

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