This fog crawls blindly from the lake. Tendrils clutching, curling, round the roots and dragging upward. Listen! How its whispers twine around your fearful thoughts. Your breath is rasping short in your throat. The pines can't scent this dank and fetid stink that grasps and chokes. Its fingers in your nose, your mouth. Taste it, the bitter bark, the bile of loss, it takes your senses, twists you round to face defeat. Clammy strands of vapour shiver your skin. This fog knows you, and your long dead might-have-been, your Self. This fog! How its whispers and fetid stink that grasps your senses, twists you round to face yourself.
A cinquain (an American cinquain) is one of those types of poems with a very specific structure. A stanza of five lines of accentual-syllabic verse, in which the lines comprise, in order, 1, 2, 3, 4, and 1 stresses and 2, 4, 6, 8, and 2 syllables. (Wikipedia) The above is slightly more complicated, a “Garland” cinquain. As you see that involves using specific lines from each of five verses to create the final verse. (There’s also something called a “Didactic” cinquain, which this is not. Didactic cinquains are sometimes taught in schools – I may have taught them myself at some point. The Wikipedia article explains more.)
Ten years ago this month, I had just discovered the joy and complexity of the American cinquain. At the same time, after a couple of years playing word games on Twitter I was becoming disenchanted with that social network and withdrawing from it. Sorry to be losing contact with some good friends, but happy to escape a certain amount of poison. (Yes, even then.) Also it was a significant drain on my time.
Then, just before I’d faded out, one of my Twitter friends, Paul Nadolny (aka @OddlyStarry) started a new game called an Oddly Haunted Journey. He posted two words each day and the challenge was to create a Tweet, tagged with #ohj, using one or both words. We were encouraged to try to make your tweet haunted or scary or horrifying in some way. I thought – and I think Paul thought – it would be a month-long game leading up to Halloween, so I delayed my departure to play along.
The Oddly Haunted Journey turned out to be much longer. In fact, it’s still going strong, something I only discovered recently. Paul has a blog dedicated to it here, and you can read more about that first month here. You can follow Paul on Twitter and play along too. (Note, he uses #oxj nowadays.)
An Oddly Haunted Cinquain
I didn’t (as far as I remember) play daily from the beginning of OHJ. Instead I picked 5 words from the first 10 (whisper, skin, fog, mirror, bark) and made a cinquain out of them. I published it here as An Oddly Haunted Cinquain. (If you’re interested to see it, I’ve reproduced it below.)
I had probably not read it for eight or nine years, but I’m creeping back onto Twitter nowadays and when Paul celebrated OHJ’s ten year anniversary I got a notification. So I went back and read my poem. It’s not all that good. A bit amateurish. I decided to take another pass at it. I’m not saying my new version isn’t a bit weak in its own way, but I’m quite pleased with it even so.
Each of the five stanzas relies on one of the five senses. I think the fifth verse is the least satisfactory, but I was trying to get the Garland verse (the sixth) to make sense too. I incorporated only four of the original five OHJ words in the end, though I managed to weave in the idea of mirror without the actual word.
The original cinquain
The fog Crept from the lake. The advancing tendrils Reaching out from the solid bank Of white. Listen! It whispers round Entwining your senses So you think you hear it creeping Forward. The pines Are gentled – fog Strokes soft the trees’ rough bark, Fills and soothes the corrugations, Smoothing. Meres Of standing water – See how it creeps across, Clouds over the pools’ mirror faces … Obscures. Its touch On the back of Your hand, like the wet-cold Finger of a spirit long dead, Clams skin. The fog! It whispers round, Strokes soft the trees’ rough bark, Clouds over the pools’ mirror faces, Clams skin.