Thursday, November 18, 2010

The ghazal: my white whale?

So this week I'm posting an example of a form that I have attempted, but failed miserably at completing:
the ghazal, pronounced either "huzzle" or "guzzle," depending on whom you ask. For those of you familiar with my work, you know I love form and don't shy away from a challenge. But the ghazal makes all other forms --pantoums, sonnets, even villanelles-- look like nursery school Dr. Seuss bullshit.

The ghazal is very old, with the earliest examples in Arabic verse dating back to the 6th century. It's also incredibly difficult -- there is a refrain repeated at the end of every other line, as well as internal rhyme. And as if that wasn't hard enough, the poet is also supposed to "name" him or herself in the last couplet. Because of the formal requirements, ghazals rarely are narrative poems; the repetition makes it almost impossible to move any kind of story forward. Many operate associatively through images or rhetorical word play.

This ghazal takes some liberties with the rules -- the internal rhyme is inconsistent -- but it's still, I think, largely successful.

The Ghazal of What Hurt
by Peter Cole
Pain froze you, for years—and fear—leaving scars.
But now, as though miraculously, it seems, here you are

walking easily across the ground, and into town
as though you were floating on air, which in part you are,

or riding a wave of what feels like the world's good will—
though helped along by something foreign and older than you are

and yet much younger too, inside you, and so palpable
an X-ray, you're sure, would show it, within the body you are,

not all that far beneath the skin, and even in
some bones. Making you wonder: Are you what you are—

with all that isn't actually you having flowed
through and settled in you, and made you what you are?

The pain was never replaced, nor was it quite erased.
It's memory now—so you know just how lucky you are.

You didn't always. Were you then? And where's the fear?
Inside your words, like an engine? The car you are?!

Face it, friend, you most exist when you're driven
away, or on—by forms and forces greater than you are.


Brad Urani said...
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Brad Urani said...

In Arabic, possessive adjectives (my, your, her etc.) are suffixes tacked onto the end of words, which makes internal rhymes much easier. You can write them simply in Arabic and they're easy to remember, which you'd expect considering there's a serious shortage of paper in the desert.
Trying to write one in English is like trying to write rap lyrics in Classical Arabic. It's a linguistic square peg in a round hole.