Back to 2007 Ghazals
I hope to whet your appetite with this sher.
What soup does the Almighty prefer?
If you hunger for the entreé, you probably
After a whole smorgasbord of ghazals, your eyes
But when you get the Bill, then you know
Pilgrims attend temple expecting the ideal rite.
The Korean War veteran's broken arm,
The spider's pretty parlor seemed pleasant,
The battle was lost, the kingdom was lost,
Bill surprised us with another ghazal.
Cars on a country road raise clouds of dust.
If I were buried in my enemy's grave,
In dreams I see my mother always pacing
Why did I think love would survive separation?
G, you sad poet, who will remember you
. . . and the trees, and the trees, and the trees and the trees! Whoo!
Gone August: blueberries and mayonnaise in the grasses —
Gone crackers and sweet cheeses. Gone melon. Molasses —
Gone grazin'. You Boch-drunk. Clink of spoons on sunglasses —
Gone soft aspen slantlight that blisters, then passes —
Gone lemon, pistachio. White napkin. Gone lashes —
Winter lawn, one leaf whips into sky, then crashes —
The chinchillette broods on small losses, great lapses —
Gone a caught August's almonds. Winters that pass us —
ya 'aini (O thou, my Eye), must I swear this oath to you again?
ya shamsi (O thou, my Sun), your noonday heat resembles mine.
ya lisani (O thou, my Tongue), the Truth when captured within words
ya qalbi (O thou, my Heart), I follow you through deepest shade,
ya yammi (O thou, my Sea), let me sink forever in your depths;
ya nafsi (O thou, my Soul), pay no heed to these deceptive calls;
ya hamri (O thou, my Wine), I long to drain you to the lees,
ya habibi (O thou, my Beloved), when did you come? where did you go?
The phrases beginning each sher are in Arabic that is translated in the following parentheses.
I awaken from a dream of gardens in the west
On the high Alpujarra melting snow feeds purling streams
Through the night the oud resounds from valley wall to wall
My beloved's precious books are trampled underfoot
Moriscos and Marranos attend their secret rites
Poets recite glorious tales of far al-Andalus,
Sat Nov 3 12:41:31 2007
Bill BatcherIt's a pleasure to publish more of Bill Batcher's witty ghazals. "Digestion," of course, is less serious than "Broken Contracts." In both ghazals, Batcher's play with the radifs generates the wit. In "Broken Contracts," the qafiya coordinates very closely with the radif to present some surprising combinations. This ghazal illustrates how radifs that are homophones can work very effectively.
Gail WhiteWhile grimmer in tone than Bill Batcher's ghazals, Gail White's "Dust" engages in equally witty play with the radif. This poem has some real personal resonance for me: I grew up in Rural Kansas in the 1940s and '60s. Kansas means "south wind" or "the people of the south wind." If you've spent any time in Kansas, you'll know how persistent the south wind is. And it often blows dust. We had some serious dust storms when I was a child: topsoil blew into drifts across the roads like snow. Reading this poem, I feel the grit in my eyes and ears from that many years ago. "Dust" also is one of those archetypal images; Gail White uses it very expressively in this ghazal.
After reading this poem, read Stephen Hortsmann's ghazal with the same radif in the July issue. Different poets using the same radif is both a traditional practice and an inviting one for us. grasses, of course, suggests the biblical trope, "Allflesh is grass," found in the Hebrew poetry of Tanak. "Grass" is like dust, an archetypal image, expressing transience.
If you're not in the habit of reading poems aloud, I strongly recommend it. (Except for concrete poetry!) Rebecca Byrkit has gone beyond syntax in some of the phrases here, with a resultant syncopation and intensification of her language. Also, in addition to qafiya, she has rhymed the first line of each sher with "grasses" — the sound system of "grasses" will repay careful attention.
When a poetic form moves from one language and culture to another, there are several issues to resolve. One, which had been discussed a lot regarding the ghazal, is how the form will change to fit the new language and culture. The changes may be few and slight or many and extensive.
Another issue, which hasn't been discussed much regarding the ghazal (to my knowledge) is the typical content, imagery, and themes of the poetic form in its home culture. Traditionally, the ghazal has been a vehicle for expressions of love, erotic, human, divine, and then the ecstacy experienced in the mystic path. (David Jalajel's "History of the Ghazal" takes the form back to its pre-Islamic beginnings in Arabic.) Norman Darlington's two ghazals skillfully evoke the traditional themes and imagery, while avoiding the risk of becoming precious and affected. "O thou, my Eye" invokes the Beloved in personal and intimate terms, the Arabic phrases added a tone and texture to the English that works quite well. "West" evokes Muslim Spain in haunting tones that enrich the reader's world while lamenting the lost world of al-Andalus.