Ghazal [Exercise #4]

Due March 15, 2017

Hello Darlings! Our community has grown so much over the month and a half! We now have 176 followers and 33 writers, and I’m so glad each of you are here. This week we’re going to tackle one of my favorite forms, the Ghazal.

Ghazal (pronounced like ‘guzzle’) originate from seventh century Arabia, and were commonly written by the Persian poets Rumi and Hafiz, and the North Indian poet Ghalib.

On one hand, Ghazals are relatively simple. They are composed of a series of a minimum of five and up to fifteen couplets. Each stanza functions as an independent unit. The stanzas are aligned around a general theme, but don’t form one cohesive narrative. Each line must be approximately the same length, but there are no restrictions on meter. The major restriction in the form comes in the second line of each couplet. Here’s the basic formula:

  1. In the first stanza, end each of the two lines with the same repeating word.
  2. Repeat the last word (or last clause) from the first stanza as the closing line of each of the subsequent couplets. The scheme would be written as AA bA cA dA eA etc. Sometimes poets will actually use different rhyming words to close each couplet, rather than the exact same word (scheme in this case would be AA ba ca da ea etc.). Use the approach that works best for you.

Check out the following examples for variations on the approach:

Ghazal #1
Hafez, translated by Roger Sedarat

Hey wine boy! Keep giving us more to drink.
Love’s not something we endure or outthink.

The musky flower’s perfume in the breeze
Buzzes us blindly to its core to drink.

Bound to the world, my beloved jangles
Chains of existence to sever the link.

The holy man knows best. If he insists,
Paint prayer rugs with rags and wine-colored ink!

We who’d drown in love know the wave’s terror.
Those with closed hearts, safe on the shore, don’t sink.

My selfish verse made me notorious.
(Truth remains hidden when the liars speak).

Hafez, don’t run away from his presence.
When caught by him, release the world and sing.


Hip-Hop Ghazal 
By Patricia Smith

Gotta love us brown girls, munching on fat, swinging blue hips,
decked out in shells and splashes, Lawdie, bringing them woo hips.

As the jukebox teases, watch my sistas throat the heartbreak,
inhaling bassline, cracking backbone and singing thru hips.

Like something boneless, we glide silent, seeping ‘tween floorboards,
wrapping around the hims, and ooh wee, clinging like glue hips.

Engines grinding, rotating, smokin’, gotta pull back some.
Natural minds are lost at the mere sight of ringing true hips.

Gotta love us girls, just struttin’ down Manhattan streets
killing the menfolk with a dose of that stinging view. Hips.

Crying ‘bout getting old — Patricia, you need to get up off
what God gave you. Say a prayer and start slinging. Cue hips.


Ghazal of the Better-Unbegun 
by Heather McHugh

A book is a suicide postponed. — Cioran

Too volatile, am I? too voluble? too much a word-person?
I blame the soup: I’m a primordially
stirred person.

Two pronouns and a vehicle was Icarus with wings.
The apparatus of his selves made an ab-
surd person.

The sound I make is sympathy’s: sad dogs are tied afar.
But howling I become an ever more un-
heard person.

I need a hundred more of you to make a likelihood.
The mirror’s not convincing — that at-best in-
ferred person.

As time’s revealing gets revolting, I start looking out.
Look in and what you see is one unholy
blurred person.

The only cure for birth one doesn’t love to contemplate.
Better to be an unsung song, an unoc-
curred person.

McHugh, you’ll be the death of me — each self and second studied!
Addressing you like this, I’m halfway to the
third person.


You may notice that in the last stanza, each poet included a reference to themselves. “Hafez, don’t run away,” “Patricia you need to get up off,” and “McHugh, you’ll be the death of me.” This is customary with this form, though the self-reference can be oblique (using a veiled reference to yourself, you don’t necessarily have to use your first name).

Some of the example poems I included above are a bit humorous, but they don’t have to be. Traditionally, the form has dealt with themes of romantic longing, loss, and religious belief/mysticism.

Here are more examples for the curious:

Alright folks! This is Ghazal in a nutshell. My tip is don’t get too reined in trying to make the poem feel cohesive and narrative. It is supposed to be abstract, even disjointed. Focus on being concrete and specific, and just have fun!

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