Dancing shaman with a kingfisher's head.
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2004 Ghazals, Set Two


Four poets, four ghazals. So this issue is 4 x 4 and contains a poem that is 8 x 8.

I-5: All the way from San Diego to Blaine, Mexico to Canada. North to South through how many ecologies? Here's a prose rhapsody to this stretch of asphalt.

The journey in Taylor Graham's ghazal is more than geographical--it's people alone together, travelling, yes, folded in illusion. There's some quintessential American wistfulness (or loneliness) in this poem. And yet, despite "rented sheets" and "illusion," there's true comfort in the sleep, in the dream, in the rest after travel.


"Life is a _________." Fill in the blank with your favorite metaphor for the involuntary movement we make between birth and death. "Dance" is one of the best, most emphatic, expressive, extensive. And in participle/gerund form--"dancing"--the dance becomes continuous, sustained, as we daily know it is. The dance is a dance of body, of mind, of feeling, of image: all of these take fleet-foot in Sunny Dudley's ghazal. Notice especially the beat ("sprung-rhythm") of "The spring-shook trees rock birds and bud again."

The syncopation of that line is repeated in the way the qafiya finds rhymes in the first line of several shers--the first, the second, and the last. (And note the near-rhyme of "died" and "afright" in the third sher. Let this poem dance in your ear.


Someone asked me recently how long the lines of a ghazal should be? Long, I said, adding that the shortest ghazal lines I'd published were pentameters. (That doesn't include non-traditional ghazals, like Christina-Marie Umscheid's.) Most are longer.

I don't scan the ghazals I screen for The Ghazal Page, unless something attracts my attention. The title of R. L. Kennedy'a ghazal does attract my attention: "America: The Blues, Eight by Eight."

Eight shers; eight-syllable lines--four-beat lines, with a few extra syllables in some lines. (Poetic license, that's what that is.) Derek Attridge argues (The Rhythms of English Poetry, Longman, 1982) convincingly and at length, that the basic English form is "four-by-four": quatrains of four-beat lines, with either rising (iambic) or falling (trochaic) stress-patterns. And, of course, with many variations.


Speaking of line-length. You may need to maximize your browser window so that Tree Riesner's lines don't turn over.

This ghazal has long, fluid lines (~20 syllables) that express the "ravishing disunities" (Agha Shahid Ali) of the ghazal quite well. The ground-tone of "With You" is indicated by the radif that titles the poem. The Platonic resonance of the next-to-last sher (see "The Symposium") adds extra depth to this ground-tone in referring to the lost, primordial unity of lovers. The Genesis allusion also enriches the overtones or undertones or paratones of the poem.

I vacillate between Romanticism and Classicism.

It seems to me that the ghazal, as a form, can be taken in either way, be used within either project. Tree's ghazal seems more to the Romantic pole, and, within Romanticism, to the Wordsworthian joy in the ordinary rather than to the Coleridgean fascination with the weird. At least, I sense mystery in this poem, despite the ordinariness of much of the imagery. But even there, some images recall myth and the kabbalistic story of the separeted lovers.

I've added a blog entry on Romanticism and Classicism if you're interested.

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I-5 Ghazal

by Taylor Graham

We make this long drive down the valley in illusion,
sun-glare mirage of pavement shimmering in illusion.

This used to be a desert, before water brought forth
orange groves and walnuts - an oasis in illusion.

The hills lie bare as winter. Not a single farmhouse
where an old man props his heels, lost in illusion.

A harrow on a vast machine is slicing level soil
upwind, and dust envelopes in a bright illusion.

Across the valley, lost in clouds, true mountains
guard their snow as if hardship were an illusion.

In thirty miles, another stop for gas and coffee,
as the interstate unwinds our progress in illusion.

The heater's on, we've checked our list, forgotten
nothing; and so, departure is a mere illusion.

At the other end, we'll arrive with reservation
at a motel, the day's fatigue slipping to illusion.

And then we'll sleep, and dream in rented sheets,
and all the miles we've traveled an illusion.

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" . . . dancing"

by Sunny Dudley

A maid's soul flew in olden August night, dancing,
a rosy lass from life's egregious bombsite, dancing.

On April god-light slanting, honed owls fly straight.
The mouse lust buoys his wings bright dancing.

My flesh's Mother died in spring, that crocus girl;
Her soul is free of drugged hours afright, dancing.

The spring-shook trees rock birds and bud again;
Barn-swallow love is soaring in flight, dancing.

Nebulous memories cling in this current of time;
.I am weightless-nude, guiltless delight, dancing.

Fading in life's bright light, the child in Sunny waits
to bathe in the love-lit aura of His might, dancing.

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America: The Blues, Eight by Eight

by R.L. Kennedy

New lovers spat then sing the blues.
Old couples prat to sing the blues.

Of storm and strife there is no dearth;
But find a wife and sing the blues.

Gluttons who tout a merry girth,
Get old man gout and sing the blues.

Rich men are riled by bogus worth.
The hungry child will sing the blues.

Prodigals forsake their land of birth.
Orphans awake to sing the blues.

Gay flutes may wax the air with mirth;
A brass tenor sax can sing the blues.

Jazz happily plies its trade in Perth.
Slave's harsh cries did sing the blues.

Wanderers never find peace on earth.
America's were ever folks sing the blues.

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With You

by Tree Riesener

Dependable as a library card catalog or beer on tap at a bar, God's peace be with you;
confident answer, adding a few more grapes to the universal cluster, and also with you.

Drinking too much wine, lemonade or water in the evening, definitely a marital aid,
packing several bedtimes in one night, up to pee, then snuggling down again with you.

Flying in my dreams but nothing beyond flight. Technicolor but tied to the rainbow.
Those few seconds when I soar lost beyond the realm of god, prayers said only with you.

Pray God the military-industrials never find the damned thing whose color can't be seen.
If I have stumbled on it, stayed to assault its being, that bravery came from life with you.

Maybe we bruise the serpent with our heel, poor serpent doomed to slither in the dust;
taught to wheel, vestigial limbs revealed, you could help it roll on hand-in-hand with you.

Our circular being, sex to mouth, cycles around the dusty streets like a carnival wheel;
I won't honor stop signs, repeat a street, obey traffic lights, or reverse when I'm with you.

This we can do: wounded bodies, animals crawling from slaughter, worms and ants:
there's room enough for all in the lofty shelter I have built in the tree of life with you.

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