tagHow ToHow to Write Simple & Light Poetry

How to Write Simple & Light Poetry


In my other poetry form articles I reviewed several Japanese form poems including the tanka, sedoka, choka, somonka, renga, and katautas. In other articles I outlined some more involved forms including the villanelle, terzanelle, roundel, rondeau and rondeau redoubled. While each type of form had their own intricacies, the latter group of forms got fairly complex. Well, now you can take a breath of air and look at some easier forms and lighter poems.

Cinquain The cinquain is an unrhymed American form of poetry invented and developed by Adelaide Crapsey based upon five lines of varying length. The length of the lines is basically established with two criteria, the first is based upon accents. A cinquain will have a single stress on the first line, two stresses on the second, three stresses on the third, four stresses on the fourth line and one stress on the fifth line. In a standard cinquain, the meter is normally iambic meaning each pair of syllables will feature an unstressed syllable, followed by a stressed syllable (x X).

The second criteria for cinquain is based upon syllable count with the first line comprised of two syllables, the second line with four syllables, the third line with six syllables, the fourth line with eight syllables and finally the fifth line is comprised of two syllables. Of course if these lines were written in iambic meter, the syllable layout outlined above would match the accent requirements of criteria one. A cinquain would diagram as follows:

(x – unstressed, X- stressed) syllables

x X                      2
x X x X                4
x X x X x X          6
x X x X x X x X    8
x X                      2

More modern cinquain forms will drop the requirement for the iambic meter, basing the poem almost entirely on simply the syllable count. Another important feature Adelaide Crapsey looked for in the form was a, "Turn, twist, reversal, punch line, etc., that occurs at or immediately before the 5th line; the cinquain very rough equivalent of "kireji" in haiku." (4) However, in modern writing, this criteria is not considered all that important to most poets.

While Crapsey titled her cinquain, many modern cinquain poets will not include a title on their cinquain because often the first line can serve as a title. Since most of the criteria outlined seemingly has been relaxed in recent years, the basic form you want to follow is simply the 2,4,6,8,2 syllable count. Here is an example of a cinquain used with the permission of the author:

Butterfly Dancer

canyons blossom
butterfly confessions
in the selfish dance of your heart
in flight.

           James M. Thompson

Clerihew The clerihew is a simple four lined poem which is an epigram of a person. The poem uses a rhyme scheme of aabb for the four lines. The first line of the poem is the name of a person; the remaining three lines give a short biography basically making fun of that person.

Limerick A limerick is a five lined poem with a specific meter and a rhyme scheme of aabba. In some variations of the poem, the first line becomes a refrain that is repeated as the last line of the poem. Limericks are funny, often to the point of being bawdy or even pornographic.

The meter for lines 1, 2 and 5 have an iambic foot (x X) and two anapests (x x X, x x X) while lines 3 and 4 have either an iambic foot (x X) and an anapest (x x X) or simply two anapests (x x X, x x X). The meter and rhyme scheme would diagram as follows:

Line meters and rhyme
1      xX xxX xxA
2      xX xxX xxA
3      xX xxB       or xxX xxB
4      xX xxB       or xxX xxB
5      xX xxX xxA

An example of a limerick:

Old Man with a Beard

There was an Old Man with a beard
Who said, "It is just as I feared!—
  Two Owls and a Hen,
  Four Larks and a Wren,
Have all built their nests in my beard!"

               Edward Lear (1)

While the above example is a very tame example of a limerick, there are a lot of very pornographic limericks posted in the erotic poetry sections of Literotica. The limerick offers a simple introduction into combining meter, rhyme and humor into poetry. The other forms outlined above are also relatively simple forms that can ease a poet into form poetry without overburdening him or her with strict criteria and rules. You should try several of the forms described above, in a short amount of time you can have some reasonable poems.




1. Turco, Lewis The New Book of Forms, A Handbook of Poetics University Press of New England 1986.

2. Finch, Annie ed. & Varnes, Katherine ed. An Exaltation of Forms, Contemporary Poets Celebrate the Diversity of Their Art The University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor 2002.

3. Strand, Mark & Boland, Eavan The Making of a Poem, A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms W.W. Norton & Company, New York 2000.

4. Amaze: The Cinquain Journal "An Introduction to the American Cinquain," by Denis Garrison http://www(dot)amaze-cinquain(dot)com/

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