Ekphrastic Ghazals and More for December

The December issue of The Ghazal Page is now online. You may access the index for the issue, through the main page, or the 2011 index. There are three pages this time, two presenting ghazals grouped loosely by theme and a third presenting two ekphrastic ghazals by David Jalajel. Ekphrastic poetry responds to a work of art; both artworks for these ghazals are reproduced with the poems, along with further information.

As announced on the main page, and in the information folder, I have slightly revised the submission policy and procedures. Submission for regular issues of The Ghazal Page in 2012 is open throughout the year; I will publish an issue when I have enough good ghazals, at least four and not more than eight or ten. Rather than quarterly, as in the last half of 2010 and all of 2011, issues will be published irregularly but, I hope, frequently.

The next challenge will be announced when the issue for the music challenge is published. It will involve art and especially ekphrastic ghazals; details will be in the announcement.

Challenges will have a set deadline for submissions. You may submit work for the current challenge before midnight on December 31. Use either the time zone in which you live or the Central Standard zone of the United States, whichever allows you the most time to get your submission to me.

I believe that 2011 has been a good year for The Ghazal Page and expect the same for 2012. Many thanks to the poets who have contributed their work!

Bird Song from Tashkent

The Language of the Birds: International Poetry Anthology, Azam Abidov, editor. Tashkent, Uzbekistan: Takkafur, 2011. ISBN: 978-9943-372-41-2.

Recommended

This anthology follows the Fish and Snake anthology, reviewed here in 2009. Like the earlier anthology, The Language of the Birds presents poems both in their original language and in Uzbek. Languages in this anthology include Spanish, German, French, English, Uzbek, Turkish, and Polish. When the original is a language other than English or Uzbek, it is presented without English translation. The number of languages (and cultures) included and the manner of their inclusion make this a truly international anthology. There are poets from the US, Uzbekistan, Israel, Lebanon, Switzerland, Turkey, India, Hong Kong, Argentina, and others. The quality of the poems is high; the reader will find new and powerful voices within.

This note isn’t really a review, as I don’t consider it proper to review a book in which my work appears. I am privileged that five of my haiku appear in The Language of the Birds. They come from my collection of haiku, Nose to Nose, published by Brooks Books in 1998.

The anthology has a double dedication: to the 570th anniversary of Uzbek poet, Alisher Navoi, and to the 20th anniversary of Uzbekistan’s independence. In addition to Azam Abidov’s Foreword, there are two articles on Navoi: “Why Our World Needs Poets like Alisher Navoi,” by Gary Dyck, and “Navoi’s Blooming Garden,” by Tursunoy Sodiqova. Western readers are mostly familiar with Rumi and Hafiz. Knowing about Navoi will expand their (my!) literary world. More information and insight related to Navoi may be found at .

The Language of the Birds also features portfolios reproducing paintings by two Uzbek artists, Gulnora Rahmon and Nodira Ibrohim. Both sets of paintings feature imagery of birds. The paintings not only are a fitting accompaniment to the poems but are worthwhile in their own right.

To close this note, I’m quoting the entirety of a short poem. Please understand that this poem represents the quality of the poems in The Language of the Birds and not their specifics of technique. The poems are quite varied in voice, form, style, and so on.

night poem
by Easterine Iralu

late last night
a bird, startled
fluttered out of the shrubs
and flew far from me

how like my heart
startled by love for you
fleeing from fear …

Easterline Iralu comes from Kohima, Nagaland, in north-east India; she now lives in Norway. While this poem reminds me of ancient Sanskrit love lyrics, its simplicity and directness of feeling are universal. This poem merely indicates the riches to be found in The Language of the Birds.

Ghazal Page Update

Herewith some information on the current status of The Ghazal Page and changes coming for 2012.

The December solstice issue is coming together but will probably be published after the solstice. I hope it will appear by New Year’s Eve.

The music challenge is going well, and there are still a couple of weeks to submit ghazals for this challenge, which ends on 31 December. I will prepare the music challenge issue in January 2012, to be published about 1 February 2012. A new challenge will be issued then.

The Ghazal Page has published on a quarterly schedule for a year and a half. That will change in 2012. Issues will be published as enough publishable ghazals arrive. Each issue will have at least four ghazals and no more then ten. There will be as many issues as there are good ghazals.

The page with information on submitting ghazals will change to reflect the new policy, with that change published by the beginning of 2012.


There is a cluster of holidays this time of year. Whichever of them you celebrate, or if you celebrate no holidays at this time of year, may you know peace and joy.

Taking Tanka Home by Jane Reichhold

Jane Reichhold, Taking Tanka Home. AHA Books 2011, second edition. Introduction and translation by Aya Yuhki. Perfect bound, 7.5 x 7.5 inches, 100 pages, Cover artwork by Werner Reichhold. Bilingual with kanji and romaji of each poem. $15 ppd. Order from AHA Books, Jane@AHApoetry.comCover of Taking Tanka Home.

Recommended

Asian poetry, especially from Japan and China, have influenced American and Western poetry in many ways. Translations and advocacy by Arthur Waley and Ezra Pound were significant factors in this influence. Use of Asian forms by poets writing in English has expanded greatly in the last half-century. Japanese poets and organizations now accept tanka (and haiku) in English as legitimate uses of these forms.

Jane Reichhold’s new book, Taking Tanka Home, exemplifies the adaptation of Asian forms to American poetry and the positive reception of work by Western poets in Japan. Jane Reichhold has several decades of accomplishment as a poet and editor. Her role in bringing tanka into English is described briefly in Aya Yuhki’s Introduction to Taking Tanka Home and further in Jane’s “Author’s Notes” at the end. Recognition of Jane’s role is shown by her being invited (along with husband, Werner) in 1998 to attend the First Poetry Party of the Year at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo.

This collection comes from Jane’s participation in the International PEN conference in Tokyo in 2010. As a result of that conference. Aya Yuhki read Jane’s tanka and decided to provide Japanese translations for this second edition of Taking Tanka Home. Everything in this edition is bilingual, a feature which should make it especially valuable to students of language and culture.

The tanka is a traditional Japanese form based on counting syllables. A traditional tanka has five lines of five, seven, five, and five syllables respectively. English writers of tanka have dropped the strict syllable count but usually stay with the five-line form. Like haiku, tanka are not titled, nor do they rhyme. There is now a Tanka Society of America that publishes a quarterly journal. The Reichholds’ AHA Books sponsors a number of tanka-related items. You may purchase Taking Tanka Home there.

Jane’s accomplishments as a tanka poet are demonstrated in many of these poems. As with any collection, the reader finds some poems that immediately strike home and others that are more distant. Returning to the collection, the reader will find other poems that strike home. Here are some comments on a few of the poems that struck me immediately.

Dynamism

What kind of movement can a poem in five lines and less than 31 syllables have? How does it keep from being a static image? Well, what if the image itself moves? And surprises the reader in moving? For example,

roots
of the fallen pine
move again
a deer comes into view
with a fine rack of antlers

The roots of the pine move twice: first, when the tree falls, second, when the deer moves into view, its antlers at first appearing to be the roots moving again. This fine tanka exemplifies how Jane’s images can move and express/create surprise.

Leaps

One theme in the Chuang Tzu, a major Taoist book, is the importance of changing perspective, awareness that one’s perspective is always relative. There are several examples of leaps in perspective in this collection. The poem above is an example on a small scale.

granite basin
only inches deep
with snowmelt
yet the depths of heaven
bring every star to it

This tanka, of course, also has the leap in perception as the deer/pine tanka. The leap in the next one has a fairy tale resonance:

in high mountains
suddenly the round moon
full of concern
leaves her place in the sky
to check on the lone traveler

The reticence of tanka saves this poem from sentimentality. The care of the moon for the traveler seems very natural.

Sometimes the leap is internal, proprioceptive:

in a fog
with no east or west
my confusion
seems as if I am wearing
the day wrong side out

Personally, I’ve worn more days “wrong side out” than I can count.

Metaphysical Tanka

The last poetry in the book is a series of five tanka, “Unrecognized Friends.” Aya Yuhki calls them “metaphysical.” They are abstract and epigrammatic; appropriately to the label “metaphysical,” the diction and imagery of these tanka is abstract, asking the reader to compile meaning from them. Fortunately, these tanka do not state their meanings as overtly as this description may suggest. These poems are my least favorite in the book, but that’s a matter of taste. Here is the one that speaks to me most strongly:

grief
the tunnel of love
lengthened
by our moments together
swift passing days

Full disclosure: I became a contributor to Lynx during Terry Grell’s editorship and have continued under Jane and Werner Reichhold’s editorship. Ghazals by both Werner and Jane appeared in early issues of The Ghazal Page. Despite my association with AHA Books and the Reichholds, I would not have published this review if I didn’t think the poems to be good.

Anonymous: A witless movie from the stupid Shakespearean birther cult. – Slate Magazine

Anonymous: A witless movie from the stupid Shakespearean birther cult. – Slate Magazine.

Especially if you’re an NPR listener, you may have been gulled by their publicity for this movie into thinking you should watch it. Please take Rosenbaum’s dissection carefully. For myself, I’m no Shakespearian, but even I know the assertion that Shakespeare was illiterate is sheer snobbery.

A Discovery of Jazz

Around forty years ago, I taught extension courses in the Missori prison system. These courses carried college credit; inmate-students could earn an Associate of Arts degree. The main prison at the time was in Jefferson City, Missouri, known to inmates as “the Wall.” The physical plant is still there.

There were intelligent and talented men among the inmates, convicted felons though they were. The cliché is that prisoners protest their innocence. The inmates I had as students did not insist that they were innocent. They admitted their crimes, but did insist that the police, prosecutors, and judges were all crooked.

In the prison population were some very talented musicians. The inmates had a band, The Versatiles, who made trips outside the prison to perform. They also played appropriate occasions within the prison. I both heard the band play and got a tape of a smaller group playing. I wrote the following poem in response to the tape. It was published in my collection, Fishing at Easter, by BkMk Press in Kansas City (1980).

The late 1960s and early 1970s were a time of “Black Power” and black (African-American) militancy. The anger expressed in these movements also flowed in the music, thus much of the imagery in the poem, which, I hope, presents music as a better expression for anger than violent acts. I hope you find the poem evocative. Lonnie was one of the inmate musicians. The poem should be read aloud with noticeable pauses at the end of each line.
Continue reading “A Discovery of Jazz” »

Ghazal Games by Roger Sedarat

Roger Sedarat, Ghazal Games: Poems. Ohio University Press / Swallow Press, 2011

Recommended

Sedarat’s collection contains 53 ghazal games. These poems are games in a double sense. First, any poem is a “game,” structured by the poet to be “played” by the reader; second, many of these poems present the reader with overt games, such as filling in blanks, playing hangman, or creating cartoons.

A game requires a set of rules (or conditions or constraints), some sort of items to manipulate, and one or more players. One could look at any writing as a game, in which the writer uses “rules” to create games for the readers. Perhaps each poem is an instance of a game, or each reading of a poem is. The “game” of poetry has several players: the poet sets the rules and situation, the readers play according to their own goals and values.

The poet may well work with “rules” inherited from tradition, as is the case with formal poetry such as ghazals. Sedarat uses the Persian ghazal-form with great fluency and wit. The reader who plays these ghazal games openly and attentively will be richly rewarded. Readers not familiar with this form can find explanations here, here, and here. You’ll find many other resources on the Internet.

The Persian ghazal is an intricate and repetitive form. It consists of couplets (shers), each of which is independent of the others. In its full version, it uses both a monorhyme (qafiya) and a repeated word or phrase (radif), as well as the poet’s signing each poem with a pen-name in the last couplet. These repetitions open a potential for humor, as repeated, insistent rhyme in English easily becomes funny. Sedarat handles these intricacies adroitly; the humor in his ghazals is better described as “wit,” as in this example:

Watch out where she steps or you’ll touch cold feet.
(She broke my meter with her crutch-cold feet.)

In this first couplet of “Cold Feet,” Sedarat makes an unexpected rhyme and plays with various meanings of “feet.”

Romantic love and wine, and both as vehicles of experiencing the Divine are traditional ghazal topics. An example from this collection is “Disease of Self”:

The world’s infected. A disease of self.
O divine love, grant us release of self.

This first couplet is very straight-forward, almost somber. Here are two more, the fifth and the last:

At the bare minimum, serve each other
As co-workers, fire the big cheese of self.

………

I’m somewhere folded between my childhood
And future, wrinkling this faint crease of self.

(Note that Sedarat uses the simple first-person pronoun for the “pen-name” of the traditional form.) The last image has a tactile, kinesthetic quality that expresses well the sense of “self” in this ghazal.

What about the “Games”?

What indeed. Twelve of the ghazals are titled “Ghazal Game” with a number and further title specific to that poem. Some sample titles:

  • “Ghazal Game #2: Pin the Tail on the Middle Eastern Donkey”
  • “Ghazal Game #5: Product Placement”
  • “Ghazal Game #6: Hangman”
  • “Ghazal Game #9: Illustrate the Comic Strip”

“Ghazal Game #5″ gives, in ghazal form, instructions for a game of hangman. Here’s the first couplet:

First, hang your head like Hester Prynne’s letter
In shame. You belong to her sin-letter.

And the third:

If some nun wants to sign the cross over
Your unchristian, heathen heart, then let her.

As well as the “Ghazal Games,” there are experiments such as “Inverted Ghazal” and “Vertical Ghazal.” “Inverted Ghazal” puts the repeated word and monorhyme at the beginning of the first line of each couplet, rather than at the end of the second. On reading it outloud, one will hear how the effect still is that of a ghazal. “Vertical Ghazal” is exactly that, each line printed vertically a letter a time, with a first visual impression like Japanese or Chinese calligraphy. This ghazal also relates to concrete poetry in its use of the visual.

Not All Fun and Games

I do not want to leave the reader of this review thinking that Roger Sedarat’s Ghazal Games is all fun and games, playful versions of ghazal. (Not that there’s anything wrong with being playful!) There are more serious ghazals here as well, although they are not without their playful moments. An advantage of the disjunctions between couplets is that tone can shift drastically. For example consider “Martyr’s of Iran” and “My Father’s Face.”

Here are three couplets from “Martyrs of Iran”:

Forget their sins in this transient world.
The spilled blood absolves martyrs of Iran.

Basiji kids buy toy Evin prisons
Where you torture doll-martyrs of Iran.

The thread of incense spelled Allah’s ninety-
Nine names, linked to all martyrs of Iran.

This topic is grim; Evin Prison has been a site of brutality since the time of the Shah. The couplet mentioning it shows how adult actions affect children, suggesting the transmission of brutality through generations.

In “My Father’s Face,” Sedarat explores the links between generations:

At the end of his life, my father’s face
Appears in my mirror (my father’s face).

There’s much else in this rich ghazal; this opening couplet expresses tenderness and the bemusement a man has at “seeing” his father’s face in his own. Further, there is also the deft handling of the radif (repeated phrase), which must be at the end of each line of the first couplet. The parentheses emphasize the reflection, the doubling of the image.


Poets writing in English have dabbled in the ghazal form for sometime. The late Agha Shahid Ali was distressed at the ignorance of some of these poets and vigorously explained and advocated the traditional Persian form. I first learned of ghazal in Lynx in the mid-1990s; that information was very incomplete. I began The Ghazal Page in 1999 to explore the possibilities of the ghazal as a form for English poetry. This background is simply to make the point that the ghazal has been established as a form for poetry in English. Roger Sedarat’s Ghazal Games is an outstanding example of the genre. May it be followed by many more.

Poems by David Jalajel in Shampoo Issue 39

Poems by David Jalajel in Shampoo Issue 39.

The two pieces published in Shampoo 39 are haibun, a form developed in Japan, combining prose and haiku. Jalajel’s pieces use the form to explore experimental syntax. Reading them you will find your expectations defeated by shifts of content/image. Yet, if the reader reflects, as one should, on these pieces, one will see that the sequences of images make sense beyond that achievable by a more normal approach.

It might help if you think of a word, a phrase, an image as having two contexts, a horizontal context and a vertical. For example, the word “drill” might be used in a dental context but the writer could leap to a different context, say agricultural:

The dentist’s drill prepares the field for rotating crops.

— just a lame example of mine but read Jalajel’s haibun with this leaping of semantic fields in mind.

David Jalajel is a contributing editor of The Ghazal page, whose research on the ghazal form enriches our understanding and whose own ghazals challenge us to extend our own practices.