Posted by: poet kate hutchinson | October 15, 2013

Arts and Crafts and Cinquain

lb-writers-desk-istock-4792809Some writers are able to plop themselves down and jump into their work each day, on schedule, disciplined and productive.  Others of us – not so much.  Usually, a poem or story has to percolate in my mind for a few days before I can get a word onto the page.  This is one reason why I’m much more productive in the summer than I am during the school year, when my brain is in its linear, analytical mode and not ready to create art.

It’s occurred to me that many of my students probably have the same problem in school.  The patchworked, 8-period day requires them to shift from various modes of thinking in the time it takes to pull down a screen or light up a bunsen burner.  Does anyone remember how jarring that was – to go from math to PE to English to science to art to history, all in a span of 4-5 hours?  And then you also must factor in their social agenda – the 5 minute passing period where melodrama unfolds continuously and lingers in their minds far into each class.  Now they also must fight the tug of text messages pulling their attention away.

various color paperLast week being Homecoming week at my school, I decided to capitalize on the excitement and take a day to try an experiment I called “Arts & Crafts & Poetry.”  I’m delighted to report that it worked beautifully.  Even my boss, who stopped in to observe 3rd period, liked it well enough to try it in her own class.

Using a technique I learned from Mary Ellen Ledbetter at a Bureau of Education Research workshop last winter, I had the students each choose from a wide array of colored cardstock paper.  They worked with a partner, sharing a cross-shaped pattern I had made and a small pair of scissors, tracing and cutting out the cross shape from their own paper.  This activity, I explained to them, was forcing them to unwire their analytical synapses and activate the more free-associative and image-rich parts that we use in creative pursuits.  In other words, it forced the numbers and computer screens out of their heads.

As they finished cutting, I asked them to start thinking about the book we’ve been reading together, The Old Man Who Read Love Stories, which is set in the Amazon rainforest.  They were to choose a topic related to the story, whether a character, a setting, a scene, or even an animal.  Each student wrote his or her topic in the center part of the cross.

Paper-Cube-Step-6Next came the free-association brainstorming.  In each of the 5 remaining squares on their cross pattern, they thought of words and phrases associated with their topic:  adjectives, verbs, synonyms, metaphors, and feelings.  Once they had lots of ideas written on their papers, I handed out rolls of tape and had them transform their cross shapes into cubes.  This cube, I told them, held all the ideas for the poems they were about to write.

We then took a minute to learn about the CINQUAIN, a poetry form invented in the late 1800s by a woman named Adelaide Crapsey, who was enamored with the Japanese forms of haiku and tanka but wanted to Westernize the form using English word and syllable counts.  We discussed the two forms and looked at some models; then the students begin drafting ideas for their own cinquain, using ideas from the sides of their cubes as they rotated them around in their hands.

When their poems were complete, they used colored markers and wrote out the poems on one notecard-sized scrap from their colored card stock.  They then pinned their poems up onto a bulletin board at the front of the room, creating a bright collage of images and words.  Here’s the result!  Isn’t it pretty?


Here are my 2 cinquain in honor of October.  These use syllable counts per line, 2, 4, 6, 8, 2:



golden light slants

dappling reds and oranges

high above cranes warble farewells




forests, rivers, mountains –

until Europeans arrive

with guns.

Here is one using the other form,  with word counts per line instead of syllables  (1, 2, 3, 4, 1):



Earth tilts

Crisp air cools

Fireplaces brim with wood


Please feel free to add a cinquain of your own in the Comments box below!  You can do it without making a paper cube — though my students will agree it was kind of fun.

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