How to Start Crafting Syllabic Poetry

Are you new to crafting syllabic poetry and don’t know how to start? Let me show you two syllabic poetry forms to get you started on your poetry writing journey now…

Let’s start with an American form, the Crapsey Cinquain. The Crapsey Cinquain is a five-line, non-rhyming poem featuring a syllable structure of 2-4-6-8-2. Choose words that create drama that builds into the fourth line. The turn occurs on line five, the most important line. This is where you change your focus away from the drama in some interesting way. Cinquain poems need a title.

Use a syllable counter as you compose your poetry. I use sodacoffee.com/syllables/. See my example below:

"Day Dawns"

pink blush—
fairy sunshine
smudges morning's gray clouds
dew sparkles against the grasses
thunder

© Colleen M. Chesebro

In the Crapsey cinquain above, I described a morning sunrise. True to the form, I pivoted in line five. My last two-syllables are where I turned away from the beauty of the scene and added the word “thunder.” This gives a hint that not everything is as it seems in the idyllic scene I described.

LEARN more about the Crapsey cinquain form at cinquain.org.


If Japanese poetry intrigues you, start with the haiku. Haiku contains three lines following the short-long-short, 3-5-3, 2-3-2, (5-7-5 traditional) syllable count. Your haiku should contain approximately twelve syllables. We write haiku about nature, the seasons, a beautiful moment in nature, an emotional experience while in nature, or change. Haiku are untitled. The use of a Kigo (season word) is optional. Haiku do not rhyme. Do not use metaphors or similes in haiku.

(When you’re first learning how to write haiku, use the 5-7-5 syllable structure until you’re ready to embrace the shorter formats.)

When we write haiku, we’re sharing an encounter between nature and ourself as a human. We describe our experience at that exact moment. These are the moments that stand out and grab our attention in unexpected ways.

clouds stitched together
against the blue cloth of sky
summer's heat rises

© Colleen M. Chesebro

In the haiku above, I describe the clouds, and how they look against a blue sky. Notice my choice of words. I also used a kigo or season word, which is summer. Now, you’re experiencing the moment with me…

Break your haiku into two separate word images:

clouds stitched together against the blue cloth of sky

against the blue cloth of sky summer’s heat rises

This is a great way to check your haiku when you’ve finished writing. Combine the first and second line of your haiku. Does a mental image appear? In this example, you can see the clouds contrast the color of the blue sky. Remember the brevity of words.

However, when you take the second and third line and combine them, you receive another mental image. Now you see the heat shimmers against the blue sky.

The idea is to write about two contrasting or somehow similar images, and to connect them in unusual ways. Haiku are all about images. How does the haiku make you feel? Have you created emotion without telling your reader how to feel?

That’s it! You’re ready to craft syllabic poetry. Join us every Tuesday on wordcraftpoetry.com for Tanka Tuesday and get your poetry writing groove on!

I’ve done the work of researching these syllabic forms for you. Word Craft: Prose & Poetry is available as an Ebook and a Print book. mybook.to/WordCraftProsePoetry Let’s write syllabic poetry together! ❤

Helpful Tips & Tricks for Submitting Poetry to Literary Journals

Syllabic poetry has specific rules that should always be followed when submitting your poetry to literary journals. No one likes rejections. Here are a few things that poets should watch out for:

  1. Count your syllables and the number of lines specified for the form you are writing. Then, double-check your poem before submission. Use sodacoffee.com to check syllables.
  2. Check your spelling. Most journals will not correct minor mistakes. Spelling mistakes can spell rejection.
  3. Does your poem need a title? Do your research on which forms require a title or not.
  4. Do not capitalize the first letter of each line of your poetry. Word and WordPress naturally capitalize the first word on each line, but it’s incorrect in Japanese poetry and most syllabic forms. Write your poetry like a pro… don’t capitalize!
  5. Here are the basic rules for the syllabic forms. Make sure you know how to write the forms before you submit them.

READ: Lit Mag Submissions 101

READ: Word Craft: Prose & Poetry, The Art of Crafting Syllabic Poetry to learn how to write the typical syllabic poetry forms.

Finding Poetic Inspiration

I’ve had a few poets ask me about poetic inspiration. Where do you find it, and how do you go about acquiring this precious commodity?

I dedicated a section in Word Craft: Prose & Poetry, The Art of Crafting Syllabic Poetry to just that subject. In my opinion, inspiration is everywhere. But not everyone feels that way.

Here are a few suggestions to find your own poetic inspiration:

  • Get outside in nature. Go for walks and observe the world around you.
  • Take notes. Keep your observations and thoughts in a notebook or in your phone.
  • Take photos. If you photograph your inspiration, you can write about how the photo captured the scene and memorialized it for that moment in time.
  • Write about your own experiences.
  • Read other poetry written by the greats and new poets.
  • Free write your thoughts for five minutes and see what inspires you.
  • Create a vision board!

Yes… create a vision board for your poetry. This is a fun exercise. If you love to take photos, create a vision board for your poem.

Vision board created with Canva.com

I used a vision board to create this haiku. I went through a bunch of photos on Canva.com for inspiration.

Things to note:

  1. Haiku are untitled.
  2. My syllable count is 3-5-3.
  3. My kigo is loud thunder—which signifies a season (really any season). It can thunder in all four seasons depending on where you live in the United States.
  4. The ending should be a surprise. This is the pivot. That is when you talk about one thing and then switch to talking about another thing. In my haiku, sunshine rain is the pivot.
  5. The pivot is where we create that juxtaposition of divergent or convergent images that compliment each other. We recognize this reaction as the “aha” moment.

We hear the thunder and see the clouds swirling. Then, the sun breaks through and the rain begins to fall. It looks like it’s raining sunshine. It’s a magical moment, one that you can remember by immortalizing it with a haiku.

We can use vision boards for many kinds of literary inspiration. Charli Mills, from Carrotranch.com, taught me how to use a vision board in her “Vision Planting” class I took with her this spring.

Charli Mills’ advice:

“Represent your vision with the tools of manifestation—use a vision board to create poetry.” @Charli_Mills #inspiration

I’ve done the work of researching these syllabic forms for you. Word Craft: Prose & Poetry is available as an Ebook and a Print book. mybook.to/WordCraftProsePoetry Let’s write syllabic poetry together! ❤

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