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One purpose of the challenge to write an Arabic ghazal, following David Jalajel's rules, is to encourage poets to extend the possibilities of the ghazal as a form for English poetry. The nine ghazals presented here show a variety of responses to the challenge. I hope that these results will lead to the submission of more ghazals using the Arabic approach.

The ghazals presented here show several approaches to adapting the Arabic form to poetry in English. Kathee Rogers' "Piyut: Desire for my Beloved" relates to a much earlier adaptation of Arabic poetry by Hebrew poets in Al-Andalus (medieval Spain). The site, Medieval Hebrew Poetry, contains a lot of information to get you started, including an article on piyyut. A Web search for piyyut will produce many hits; the page linked above is a good place to start.

In the past, there've been no editor's comments on the special issues. In this case, the comments will supply some context and perspective for reading the ghazals. Reading the poems always takes precedence, of course.

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Loneliness, loss, darkness, drought — these three ghazals explore traditional ghazal themes. Each uses the monorhyme effectively, with Taylor Graham using the microrhyme -ld. Read each ghazal carefully and you'll hear other subtle and effective repetitions of sound.

Formally, these three ghazals stand between the Persian and the Arabic forms. One difficulty in making the transition from Persian to Arabic is to change one's thinking of "couplet" and "line." Consider, for instance, the effect of presenting Taylor's ghazal with each couplet rendered as a long line. Caroline Gill and Linda Umans alternate rhymes, retaining the couplet effect to some extent.

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Long lines pose layout problems. I've seen poems with long lines printed sideways in little magazines. For English, at least, long lines impose extra demand on the reader. Poetry, of course, should not be read like prose, but long lines still challenge the reader. One solution is breaking long lines, which is how we get English "couplets" from Persian and Arabic ghazal forms. Poets and readers have also learned that line-endings are cues to the rhythm and meaning of a poem, even a formal poem with rhymes. In Susan Melot's ghazal, the alternation of long and short lines provides an especially appropriate rhythm, one that drives home the microrhyme on the vowel spelled "o" here. Imagine the loss of impact if each long/short combination were presented as one long line:

Do you still remember the Ingmar Bergmann movie, Dot, with scores of strange stopped clocks?

Colin Flanigan's "Comes a Song" could easily be presented as five couplets instead of five longer lines:

Here comes a damned desire again;
Here comes a lust with dark red rain.
The lines of this ghazal are semantically enjambed, that is, it develops a theme with more unity than usual in the Persian ghazal. This greater thematic unity is a possibilty of the Arabic ghazal.

Michael Helsem's use of the consonant frame, -f-b-l-, as the microrhyme supports and extends his ghazal's multi-lingual, post-syntactic, Joycian jazz.

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Fergus Carty's "Cubit's Arrow" continues the theme of language play in the pun of the title. One would guess that what Cubit's arrow measures is the heart. As a comment, lines 4 and 6 are most successful in following the Arabic form because the medial pause is less strongly marked, and the microrhyme on -t is most effective.

The last two ghazals, "Behind the River," (Jessy Murphy) and "Piyut: Desire for my Beloved," (Kathee Rogers) embody the traditional ghazal theme of love, both human and divine. Jessy Murphy's last phrase, "I am the trembling creature caught on your hook, this is me," could as well be said to the Divine as to the human lover, the sort of ambiguity that enriches poetry. Her long lines, running between 15 and 20 syllables, are appropriate to traditional ghazals. She rhymes every other line, retaining someting of a couplet feeling, and raising the question of whether the rhyme-scheme could be "thinned out," especially when it's a full rhyme, as in this ghazal.

Kathee Rogers' ghazal shows how rhyming on a vowel can still work as a microrhyme. She rhymes on the vowel /aI/ (a long "i") with almost all ending in a consonant. Her use of imagery from Genesis and Ezekiel is very appropriate for the specific genre of this poem, which shows how well both form and theme adapt to English, with a wealth of references to Tanakh and Jewish tradition.

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Arabic Challenge Pages

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