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The cinquain - an origin post

Want a truly American poetic form? Look no further than the cinquain, created by Adelaide Crapsey, who wrote in the early 20th century (before dying at age 36 due to tuberculosis in 1914). Despite her early demise, Crapsey led a colorful, unconventional life. She attended Vassar, where she edited the yearbook, becoming a teacher after graduation. She taught at the American School in Rome and at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, before her illness caused her to stop. She moved to a "cure cottage" in Saranac Lake, New York,

Crapsey had studied some of the forms we discussed earlier this month, like the haiku and tanka, and admired their compressed language. She wrote extensively on form and scansion in a manuscript entitled A Study of English Metrics, enjoying the act of research and analysis.

She also wrote poetry, and while at Saranac Lake, she created the first and only true American form, the cinquain. Given the seriousness of her medical condition (and the fact that her cottage overlooked the cemetery), it's little wonder that much of her poetry - especially her cinquains - deal with issues of death or mortality, either directly or by implication.

Tomorrow will be soon enough to go into the specific requirements of the form, but for today, I hope you'll enjoy these four of Crapsey's cinquains:

November Night
by Adelaide Crapsey

Listen. . .
With faint dry sound,
Like steps of passing ghosts,
The leaves, frost-crisp'd, break from the trees
And fall.


by Adelaide Crapsey

I know
Not these my hands
And yet I think there was
A woman like me once had hands
Like these.


by Adelaide Crapsey

Well and
If day on day
Follows, and weary year
On year…and ever days and years…


by Adelaide Crapsey

These be
Three silent things:
The falling snow... the hour
Before the dawn... the mouth of one
Just dead.

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( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
TS Davis
Apr. 26th, 2016 02:03 pm (UTC)
Love how she has the requisite college portrait with fluffy stole.
Goodness, she had a lot to get done before thirty-six. I think she's a good person to go into further depth with, seeing as most people are unfamiliar entirely with this form. It's not in your Stephen Fry book either, I'll warrant!
Apr. 26th, 2016 03:01 pm (UTC)
Re: Love how she has the requisite college portrait with fluffy stole.
I think it's a frilly dress top, not a furry stole, in this case, but yes - really typical college portrait from the times. Fry mentions the cinquain only in the Appendix, so you're mostly right about that. And I have always loved Miss Crapsey's story, and am compiling a lot of research at present.

Her form is genius, and often taught to school kids, where it is mishandled and trivialized because (like haiku) it's so "easy" and only requires counting. Whereas when you read Crapsey's poems, you quickly find otherwise.
(Deleted comment)
Apr. 27th, 2016 12:36 am (UTC)
Me too. Her writing is so great!
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )

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