Monday, April 27, 2009

A promised, a bit of backstory

So, here is the story about that poem I posted last week....

I have been wanting to write a ghazal for a long time, but never really made myself try one. A pretty good explanation of the form is here if you want to read up, but the basic rules, as I understand them, are that a ghazal is composed of 5-15 couplets, and it utilizes a repeated word called a radif which appears at the end of both lines of the first couplet and then at the end of the last line of each succeeding couplet. Each couplet should stand alone, although a loose theme or feeling is generally developed throughout the poem. Traditional ghazals often evoke themes of the romantic, erotic, and/or spiritual, and have a melancholy tone. It is also tradition for the poet to "sign" the poem by including his or herself in the final couplet, often in 3rd person, though I chose to use 1st person.

The ghazal was popularized in English in the U.S. by a Kashmiri-American poet named Agha Shahid Ali. I met him in the fall of 1999; he read at Bowling Green as part of an Asian-American Writers' Conference. I also got to hang out and drink with him afterward, and he was a wonderful man. He died two years later. Before he died, he put together a book of ghazals which are absolutely beautiful and heartbreaking and amazing, especially knowing that he wrote many of them when he knew that he was dying.

The PAD prompt was to write a poem about regret, and for some reason the word just struck me as the perfect word to use in a ghazal. I wrote the 5 couplets posted here that day and then another three over the weekend that I think I will add in.

Shahid's book is called Call Me Ishmael Tonight: A Book of Ghazals. He also edited a book called Ravishing DisUnities: Real Ghazals in English which includes work by Maxine Kumin, William S. Merwin, Ann Townsend, and many others.

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