Tuesday, May 8, 2018

DIAMANTES: How To Write a Diamond

This is from my April workshop cinquains, a mini-discussion of "diamante" poems, with appreciation for Wyatt Townley. When poet laureate of Kansas, she used cinquains as a project.

As a starting point for cinquains, take the “diamante.” This form, popular in public school poetry classes, is a diamond-shaped poem. Its five lines follow a set syllable count: 2+4+6+8+2 syllables. Here is one formulaic instruction:
 Line 1 - a one-word title (or 2 syllables);
Line 2 - a two-word phrase describing the title;
Line 3 - a three-word phrase describing an action relating to the title;
Line 4 - four-word feeling phrase about topic;
Line 5 – a one-word synonym for the title.
This form is pervasive throughout U.S. schools, usually centered on the page, and it can result in simple (and bad) poems like this:
Rank drools
Fetid meat clinging
Disgusting stink spreads
This is an informal entry into this form. It does reduce the poem to the essentials of the “envelope” construction, with first and last lines enclosing the concrete details. It shows focus on the first line.
A more dignified variation is the American cinquain, very similar to the diamond version, has more attention to the turn at the end. Adelaide Crapsey (1878-1914), an American poet influenced by Imagists, invented the form, based on the tanka. Here is one of her more dignified examples of a cinquain from her book Verse (1915):
Look up…
From bleakening hills
Blows down the light, first breath
Of wintry wind…look up, and scent
The snow!

The form is syllable count: two syllables in the first and last lines (trochees); and four, six, and eight syllables in the middle three lines in iambic rhythm. Crapsey’s poems consider the transitory nature of human life, due in part to her tuberculosis.  Her book Verse, of cinquains, was published in 1915, after she died. She had followers during her lifetime, but most people have forgotten works, which are seldom reprinted in anthologies. Nonetheless, her contribution to poetics is significant: she invented this popular form. 
Wyatt Townley, Kansas Poet Laureate 2013-2015, used this form for an online project. The Emporia Gazette printed her column about cinquains. She has this to say about the five-line form: “It’s a little like writing on a postage stamp.” Here is one of her own American Cinquains from her serialized newspaper project:
Body by Wyatt Townley
Which breath
is the last this
one or the one after
all you have undergone what’s not
to love

Townley, Wyatt. “Homewords.” Emporia Gazette. Accessed 9 April 2018. http://www.emporiagazette.com/news/article_9f06e4ad-5274-528f-a533-e09c218cd160.html
c. 2018 Denise Low Postings "Diamantes"