Writing Exercise – Cinquain

by | June 6, 2012 | Writing Exercise | 16 comments

As I’ve mentioned
before, when I’m teaching creative writing, I tend to return to poetry
exercises. Writing to the restraints of a strict poetic form requires a degree
of mental discipline. Limited numbers of syllables, or the need for rephrasing
to meet the demands of a rhyme scheme, often encourages writers to think about
words in ways that aren’t familiar to those who focus solely on prose writing.

Which is my way of
saying that I’ve got another poetry assignment for those brave enough to rise
to the challenge. This month I thought we could look at the cinquain.

The cinquain is a five
line poetic form that can be attempted in one of two ways. The traditional form
is based on a syllable count as illustrated below.

line 1 – 2 syllables
line 2 – 4 syllables
line 3 – 6 syllables
line 4 – 8 syllables
line 5 – 2 syllables


Two lithe bodies

Press kisses together

Swift sigh moan shriek roar yes Yes YES!


For those who like to break away from
tradition, the modern form of the cinquain is not dependent on such
devices as counting syllables.

line 1 – one word (noun) a title or
name of the subject
line 2 – two words (adjectives) describing the title
line 3 – three words (verbs) describing an action related to the title
line 4 – four words describing a feeling about the title, a complete sentence
line 5 – one word referring back to the title of the poem


perfect, passionate

dancing, sleeping, dreaming,

yang to my yin


I strongly advocate exercises like this as the perfect way to preface any
bout of writing. Athletes tell us we should never participate in sports without
first doing some form of warm-up exercise. Musicians practice scales before
performing. Doesn’t it make sense that a writer should practice their craft
before teasing the right words onto the page?

If you have the time to try writing a cinquain, either traditional or
modern, please leave your poem(s) in the comments box below. It’s always good
to read fresh work inspired by these exercises and I hope you have fun with
this one.

Ashley Lister

Ashley Lister is a UK author responsible for more than two-dozen erotic novels written under a variety of pseudonyms. His most recent work, a non-fiction book recounting the exploits of UK swingers, is his second title published under his own name: Swingers: Female Confidential by Ashley Lister (Virgin Books; ISBN: 0753513439) Ashley’s non-fiction has appeared in a variety of magazines, including Forum, Chapter & Verse and The International Journal of Erotica. Nexus, Chimera and Silver Moon have published his full-length fiction, with shorter stories appearing in anthologies edited by Maxim Jakubowski, Rachel Kramer Bussel and Mitzi Szereto. He is very proud to be a regular contributor to ERWA.


  1. CJ Lemire

    As always I love the writing exercises you post. And I'm so envious of people who can actually write poetry. Such a density of language.

    Anyway, here's what I came up with.

    wet, willing
    lick, suck, kneel
    the perfect submissive act

  2. Graham X

    I have recently got into writing poetry and love these sort of challenges. Here's my offering.

    In your bedroom,
    Kissing and caressing,
    Shyly undressing each other,
    Then bed!

  3. Ashley R Lister


    There's no need for poetry envy when you can write cinquains as well as that.

    I think this one is stylish and effective.

    Graham X,

    This managed to combine sauciness with a chaste quality. The conclusion made me smile – which is not bad going for five lines of poetry.


  4. Remittance Girl

    I rarely write poetry, but you've persuaded me to give this a try. A traditional cinquain from a newbie, then:

    with sharpened tooth and eye
    a carnal feast for the famished
    then tea

  5. MoonJumpingCow

    deep down inside
    warmth: tongue cock fingers lips
    soft to touch reach kiss coax. please come?

  6. Ashley R Lister


    The pragmatic simplicity of that conclusion is so typical of your writing style.

    Moon Jumping Cow
    As you get to the penultimate line of your poem, it seems like each word was written as a breathless pant.

    There really are some damned good poets visit this blog 🙂


  7. Lisabet Sarai

    Okay, Ash,

    Here's my feeble attempt at a traditional cinquain. The new fangled style seems MUCH more difficult.


    Palm poised
    Over bared flesh
    Every nerve sparks hot
    Remembered sting brings new pleasure

    Your exercises are a real challenge!


  8. Ashley R Lister


    Thank you. There's a delightful air of anticipation in your poem that really makes it work.

    And if there was no challenge – there would be no benefit in the exercise!


  9. themonkeysjourney

    David in Vegas led me here. What fun!

    slick'd skin, striped
    cotton rope, sweat soaked
    curv'd spine takes his weight, carnal bliss

  10. Ashley R Lister

    Please pass on our thanks to David in Vegas:

    In reading these to fit with the syllable count I had to pronounce striped as stripe-PED and soaked as soak-KED. Because both of these words fell at the end of lines, (matching the heat-TED of the opening line) it gave the poem a very distinct voice.

    Thanks for posting your poem.


  11. Lisabet Sarai

    Monkey's Journey –

    Whoever David in Vegas is… I like your poem!

  12. David

    What an interesting form to work in, thanks for the challenge:

    held immobile
    kinked, inked, pinked
    waiting for further attention

  13. Ashley R Lister


    Thanks for rising to the challenge. I don't doubt there will be poets reading this who will be extremely jealous over your line 'kinked, inked, pinked' and will be repeating the words like a mantra.


  14. Anonymous

    I wrote two – the traditional and the new. Enjoyed reading everyone's poems!

    Firm and erect
    Aroused by sudden sounds
    Twin peaks edging above her breasts

    Warm, wet
    Licking, nibbling, suckling
    He clenches his hands

  15. Ashley R Lister


    Two delightful poems.

    The second one (probably because the middle line is verb heavy) really manages to capture the excitement of sexual intimacy.


  16. Willing Submissive


    Drape me
    On the table
    Your sowing machine cock
    Gathers and embroiders my cunt

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