Since I embarked on the five-line-poem-a-day journey, which I’m hoping to maintain for the entire month, several people have asked me to define the form. The wonderful thing about five-line poetry is that there are many forms. Some of them are familiar to most: limericks and perhaps tanka. Then there are cinquain, pentastich, quintain and gogyohka. Ya du is a form of five line poetry from Burma. Five line poetry can be written in rhyme, blank verse, or free verse. Please note that I’m not claiming to be an expert, and the
following is intended only as a brief introduction to some of these forms.
Free verse is the easiest to write as it is unrhymed and follows no specific metrical or rhythmic patterns.
Blank verse is unrhymed, but the lines are all in the same meter, most often in iambic pentameter, but sometimes in other metrical rhythms. (The meter could be described as the rhythm, and a line of iambic pentameter is a line of poetry which follows an alternating pattern of weak and strong stresses on the syllables. Each pair of one weak + one strong makes an iamb, also called a foot. Five of these iambs make a line of iambic pentameter.)
Tanka is a Japanese poetry form known for the compression of meaning into a few short lines. These poems are written in 5 lines with a specific syllable count in each line, following this pattern: 5, 7, 5, 7, 7. However, I have noticed writers of English language tanka often stray from this tradition. Tanka Central is a wonderful site for fans of tanka. Tanka Online is another.
Gogyohka is tanka poetry without any rule as to syllable count. In contrast with tanka, there is also no requirement that it follow poetic or lyrical conventions, thus giving the composer of gogyohka more freedom of expression than the older, traditional form allowed. Gogyohka Junction is a great meeting place for all who are interested in this form.
Renga is a playful form developed from Tanka: one poet begins a tanka, and another finishes it.
A cinquain has no rhyme or meter, but the lines progress with either a specific syllable count or a specific word count, depending on the variation. The original style, for example,
followed a syllables-per-line pattern of 2, 4, 6, 8, 2. The didactic cinquain, which is a popular form taught in schools, uses a word pattern, rather than a syllable-based one. For
more on cinquain, have a look at Cinquain.org.
follow a rhyme scheme, but the pattern depends on the style. English quintain follow the rhyme pattern ababb. Spanish quintain, also known as quintilla, are usually
written with either an aabba or an abbaa rhyming pattern.
A pentastich is a free verse poem, with one or more verses of five lines each. If anyone has anything of interest to add, please leave a comment.
Mukhammas is a form of Urdu poetry consisting of five-line verses. In the first verse, the final word of each line rhymes. Subsequent verses each introduce a new rhyme, but they all feature a fifth line which rhymes with the first verse.
A limerick is a humorous, usually irreverent five line stanza with a typical aabba rhyme pattern.
Ya du poetry from Burma offers more of a challenge to write. A ya du poem consists of one to three stanzas, each having five lines. The first four lines must have four
syllables. The fifth line may have 5, 7, 9 or 11 syllables. Just to make things
more interesting, there is also an interesting internal rhyme structure. It looks
something like a staircase (x represents a non-rhymed syllable):
x x x a
x x a x
x a x b
x x b c
x x x x c
(regardless of the syllable count in the final line, the final word rhymes with the last word of the previous line.)
Do you like to read or write five-line poetry? Are you taking part in #5lines on Twitter? As you can see, there are many styles to choose from. If you enjoying writing in a style that I haven’t mentioned here, I hope you’ll leave a comment and tell me about it.