Monday, April 28, 2008

The Ghazal: A Poem of Longing

The was posted at APM: Weekend America on Saturday. This is a very challenging poetic form, one I have never even tried.

Angela Kim talks with poet Suzanne Gardinier (audio version at the site).

The Ghazal: A Poem of Longing
You've heard of haikus, sonnets, and limericks -- all are poetry. But what about ghazals? At first glance, the poem looks almost like a sonnet because it's written in couplets. But that's where the similarities end. The ghazal is a form of poetry rooted in the Middle East and India. Sometimes they are even sung.

Suzanne Gardinier has come to love the ghazal. She's a writer and professor at Sarah Lawrence College in New York, and has written a book of 101 original ghazals. She will be reading some of her poems today at the annual Sarah Lawrence Poetry Festival.

The first thing you need to know about writing a ghazal is how to say it:

When I'm working with my students on this form, we practice that sound at the beginning of ghazal -- because often they'll say "gah-zal" or "gha-zahl."

It's a form that originated in Arabic and Persian and moved into Urdu. And is still very much a living tradition in those languages. And it's written in couplets. There's a repeated refrain at the end of each couplet called a radif.

One way to describe the form is that each couplet is meant to be like a pearl on a necklace so it radiates by itself and it's beautiful with the other pearls at the same time.

The word "longing" tends to be at the center of any discussion of what the ghazal is, from its earliest roots. Sometimes it's personal longing -- one person longing for another. Sometimes it's someone longing for justice in the country they live in. Sometimes it's a longing for God.

Usually the conventional subject of a sonnet would be love, death, and the "changing of the seasons," as people say. But as an American working on the ghazal form, there was something different and interesting to me about the subject matter conventionally associated with the ghazal -- with that longing that drew me to it.

One of the interesting paradoxes of the form to me is that, while each couplet has to be different, there's a way that something has to hold them together. And really, it's that meditation on the mystery of love of what is, and what's the nature of experiencing it.

And which, of course, you can't nail that -- you can't make one couplet and say "OK, I got it." All you can do is circle around and around asking the questions.

* * *

Ghazal # 9 from "Today: 101 Ghazals"
by Suzanne Gardinier

I've lost my shoes Have you seen them
The winged ones that used to carry me

I've heard that when people die they remember
their mothers and call in the night Carry me

When my son used to say I can do it myself
He was whispering Could you carry me

When the quick rain soaks the shoulders of my shirt
it's saying Just for now Carry me

There's a tenderness around your eyes
Have enough tears said Carry me

All day in this new dream I walk on gravel
And the words you didn't whisper carry me

When my mother arrives at the end of something
It's to faint in my arms and say Carry me

I've known how to walk since before I was born
It's useless to try to carry me

What the dazzle of light says as it touches
the wave swelling Cresting Breaking Carry me

What the secrets say as they line the edges
of my eyes Your eyes Carry me

What the shoeless stammerer doesn't say
as she doesn't step into your arms Carry me

There are more links at the APM site.

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