Thunderbird Eats SpamGrowing up on a farm in east central Kansas, I ate some good food--chickens from our own flock, vegetables from our garden, fruit from our trees, beef from our cattle, goods my Mom canned . . . makes my mouth water now.
And I ate Spam, that pink substance in a can, glistening with some anonymous gel. Get off the school bus at the crossroads down the hill on a cold winter's afternoon, trudge up the gravel road, use the key attached to the can of Spam, and dump that good stuff out on a plate, slice it, and, ummm, good. Cold, fried, on bread or off. I haven't had a fried Spam sandwitch for years, with mayo, mustard and tobasco sauce. Yumm.
I deal with a different kind of spam these days. You know what I mean: offers to good to be true, offers not even good. Lotteries won, breasts up-sized, penises the same, morgtgages, loans, young women eager to share their privacies with me via webcam, long-lost lovers surfacing in.a. we.ierdl.y.punct&ated subject line. Messages entirely in Chinese characters, which look cool but are meaningless to me.
I have four active e-mail accounts. ("Why" can be answered another time, but it's not an interesting answer.) Three of these accounts receive spam. One of them gets well in excess of 200 spams a day. Another gets around forty. A third gets almost none, and the fourth, none at all.
The two most active have SpamAssassin installed by the ISPs. But Spam Assassion doesn't catch all of them. One gets twenty or thirty more a day. The other two accounts also have spam-blocking software but receive almost no spam.
The account that receives the most spam is the one with "ghazalpage" as the domain. That is due mostly to my naivete. I put "mailto" links all over The Ghazal Page to make communicating with me easy, not knowing that 'bots harvest addresses from those links for spammers. I have now removed (I hope) all of the mailto links, but that hasn't made a difference. I got a perl script that opens the form for mail that you now see when you click on an invitation to mail me. I use a Yahoo address there. I changed the "reply to" on the Ghazal Page e-mail account to my Yahoo account. I configured SpamAssassin to allow only mail from recognized addresses to be delivered.
Efforts to make Spam illegal or to establish a no-spam list seem futile. It's enough to make me go back to Uncle Snail.
Or not. After all, most of the postal mail I receive is also junk.
So here's the plug--but it's noncommercial. I use an open source e-mail client, Mozilla Thunderbird on both my Linux box at home and my Windows account at work. Even though it's pre-1.0, Thunderbird works well. It's easy to install on either platform and runs without the crashes you might expect from a beta-release.
And Thunderbird blocks spam very well. It has a built-in junk-detector that can learn what the user considers to be junk (or spam). One of my accounts flags messages as spam; I have a filter to send these messages to a spam folder. Thunderbird's junk detector catches most of these messages first and sends them to the junk folder. Very little spam from that account would get by Thunderbird.
So the point of this meander is to encourage you to give Thunderbird a try. Each version is better than the previous. There are other ways to fry spam-mail, but this one works well, and it's free.
EquinoxThis is entry is more or less a place-holder for the next entry, one I've been thinking about for several weeks--some comments on Jim Harrison's ghazals.
In the meantime, here're a couple of shers, for what they're worth. It's a warm, sunny October afternoon, just the dog and I here at home, BBC Radio One streaming some rock I don't recognize. My wife left on a trip early this morning; already, I miss her.
After the equinox, my mind returns to dusk and relaxes.
Meter in Ghazals (2)Previously, I talked about some of the basics of meter. This time I want to point out a couple of metrical effects in Agha Shahid Ali's ghazals. These effects will be present for anyone writing ghazals with these particular patterns.
Because of the emphasis on the qafiya+radif combination, that combination may be seen as dominating the rhythmic impact of the ghazal. The specific type of rhythm (or meter) could be another way of categorizing particular ghazals. In this note, I use terms from traditional prosody, but their meaning is changed somewhat.
Please remember that my ideas here are tentative and exploratory, not the last word.
Both patterns are based on the meter of the radif and its relation to the qafiya.
The patterns are
I will call the first type a spondaic ending and the second type an iambic. These terms are based on the traditional terms for a metrical foot of two syllables, the first with both syllables stressed (spondee) and the second with two syllables and the stress on the second syllable (iambic).
Spondaic PatternFirst, a brief definition and explanation: In traditional prosody, a spondee is a two-syllable foot, with both syllables stressed. In linguistic prosody, two consequtive syllables cannot have identical degrees of stress, unless separated by a strong pause. In practice, the reader who is aware of prosody perceives the stresses as "equal," while actually giving them their "true" value.
American speech has four significant levels of stress and four significant types of pause. In an actual utterance, the levels of stress are relative to the speaker's voice level; the literal loudness of a syllable with strongest stress will vary according to whether the speaker is whispering, conversing normally, or shouting.My examples come from Shahid's Call Me Ishmael Tonight, reviewed on The Ghazal Page by Joshua Gage.
The ghazal, "Stars" (p. 72), makes a good example of the "spondaic radif." Here is the first couplet:
When through night's veil they continue to seep, starsNote the comma between the qafiya and radif in the first line: it enforces maximum stress on both syllables. Because of the pause, of course, the two syllables ("seep," "stars") cannot be considered a traditional foot. In the second line, whether "weep" or "stars" receives the most stress depends on the reader's choice, but one syllable will receive maximum stress, the other the next-highest level.
Otherwise, I count 12 syllables in the first line and 11 in the second. ("Veil" is really a syllable-and-a-half, the "il" being a semi-vowel. Each line has six stresses in a rising pattern (meaning the stresses are on even-numbered syllables).
I find the comma-pause after "seep" awkward; perhaps Shahid would have revised this line given the time. The only reason for "stars" to occur at the end of the first line is the demand of the radif.
Here is the last couplet of this ghazal:
If God sows sunset embers in you, Shahid,The last qafiya+radif of the poem exemplifies the spondaic pattern. The percussive ending seems appropriate to the theme of this couplet--Shahid's illness, his mortality, and the gift his poetry offers the world.
I count 11 syllables in each line, five stresses in the first line, and six stresses in the second. The rhythm is "rising." The other two couplets of this brief ghazal have a similar pattern.
Rather than the traditional foot/line scansion of poetry, I propose we designate the meter of ghazals, especially of individual lines, with a stress/syllable count notation. The notation would be number of stresses/number of syllables.
Thus the last couplet of this ghazal would have a 5/11 meter in the first line and a 6/11 in the second. The notation could be read "five stresses over eleven syllables," or "five-eleven." Whether the overall line is rising or falling could also be indicated.
Of course, I will be the first to recognize the limits of scansion, which is actually much more subjective than the handbooks suggest.
Iambic PatternTraditionally, an iambic foot is an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed one. In Shahid's "iambic" ghazals, the qafiya and radif make two iambic feet. In these cases, the first syllable of the radif is a preposition.
In some cases, the radif might be an anapest--two unstressed syllables followed by one stressed. In these cases, I would call the rhythm "anapestic." Examples of anapestic ghazals in this collection are "From the Start" (pp. 42-43), "About Me" (pp. 60-61), and "Beyond English" (pp. 68-69). In these radifs, the first syllable actually receives more stress than the second syllable but less stress than the third--another example of the tension between metric patterns and speech rhythms.My example of an imabic ghazal is "For You" (pp. 26-27). Here is the first couplet:
Did we run out of things or just a name for you?The pattern is quite clear: "a NAME for YOU" and "acCLAIM for YOU." Of course, "name" and "-claim" receive a lower level of stress than does "you."
Metrically, each line of this couplet has six stressed syllables and 12 syllables total--the lines are 6/12 and rising. One could describe the lines as iambic hexameter, but that misses the effect if the qafiya+radif.
I invite you to make the same kind of analysis of other qafiya+radif patterns, such as
In Jerusalem, a dead phone's dialed by exiles.These two ghazals are among my favorites. Both approximate a 7/11 falling rhythm. The falling rhythm seems appropriate to the themes of exile and loss and home-sickness. "Arabic" succeeds without a qafiya--partially, perhaps, due to the stress-pattern of the radif.
exiles ends on an unstressed syllable and, of Arabic's three syllables, the first receives the most stress, and the middle syllable receives the least stress. This pattern could be called "dactylic," after the metrical foot consisting of a stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllable.
1964April, 1964, to be exact. JFK assassinated. LBJ ramping up the war in Viet Nam, although many people weren't really aware of it yet. A year and a half since the Cuban Missile Crisis. The Civil Rights movement in full swing and close to real social and legal progress. (You could still get murdered in Mississippi for being an "agitator," of course.)
The Beat Generation had crested and receded. (Kerouac only a few years from a self-inflicted death by alcohol.) The hippies hadn't really showed up yet--I returned to Kansas from San Francisco in 1964; a bright high school student asked me had I seen any hippies there? I didn't even know what hippies were, although I knew some of the people who would picket the Republican National Convention in the Cow Palace and would be active in the Berkeley Free Speech Movement. (Knew but not well; knew a few revenant Beatniks too, for that matter.)
The turmoil of the 1960s and 1970s was only just beginning. The leading edge was there for those with eyes to see. I didn't see. Ken Kesey? Who he? Allen Ginsberg was still a beatnik, not a hippie and a leader of the anti-war movement. My relatives in Kansas were more interested in the "monokini," a kind of topless bikini than in social movements.
And the relevance to ghazals? Or poetry, at least?
In April, 1964, Karl Shapiro delivered the first Ward Lucas Lectures at Carleton College. The lectures were published in a special issue of The Carleton Miscellany, Summer 1964 (volume V, number 3, for the purists out there). The title of Shapiro's series is "A Malebolge of 1400 Books." If you can find it, I recommend you read it. I suggest inter-library loan if you're interested. I found it in a small bookstore in Lawrence, KS, in 1964.
If you've read the earlier entry on Shapiro and Beum's Prosody: A Handbook, you know I admire Shapiro's approach to poetry. The Malebolge, as I will refer to it from now on, takes a sweeping look at a number of writers, whose works made up Shapiro's working library.
malebolge (Italian): an "evil ditch." In the 8th circle of Dante's Inferno, there are ten malebolges with torments for different categories of sinner. Shapiro never comments on his choice of this term, but clearly intends an ironic comment on the significance of large numbers of books in one's life--an irony I relate to, having just sorted and closed up about 40 boxes of books.So what is the significance of an obscure and hard-to-obtain set of lectures?
Shapiro is articulate, passionate, and witty. His language itself is a delight; his attitude is instructive and refreshing; his judgments are sharply drawn, even if the specific issues are 40 years old. His judgments (opinions) are of historical interest and can relate to contemporary issues as well.
Since the Malebolge is scarce, I am providing a dozen of Shapiro's sharp sentences, without context or real continuity. I selected two from each of the six lectures.
I don't mean to say that I agree with--or even understand--each of these sentences. I do mean that each sentence is a startling formulation of something worth giving our attention.
Anyway, here are a couple of additional quotations, from Shapiro's A Primer for Poets, Bison Books: University of Nebraska Press, 1953. You could easily find a copy through the Advanced Book Exchange, an online clearing house for used bookstores--an excellent resource.
. . . the poet is never at a loss to vary the [conventional metric] formula. The reason is that meter in the abstract has no applicability, while applied meter is as various as the words which make up the line.Let these fragments whet your appetite for more of Karl Shapiro's criticism and, of course, his poetry.
Back in the DayEmail and web-zines (webzines? web zines? web 'zines?) haven't developed a clear set of conventions for submitting poems. At least as far as I can tell. As a result, there's a lot of confusion and potential hurt feelings. And frustration for editors, who like old-fashioned print editors of little mags, do it for love or ego, not for dollars and fame.
Forty years ago, when I began sending poems to editors (who returned most of them), onesent only a few poems, a brief submission letter, and an SASE (self-addressed stamped-envelope) for the nearly inevitable return of one's poems. Unless the editor(s) threw out the poems, steamed off the stamps, and used them on their own mail.
When I say "one" did these things, I mean those want-to-be-published people who knew how things should be done. I. fortunately, had good mentors: Clifford Wood and Pierre DeLattre, both experienced writers and editors; Richard "Doc"Doxtator and Harvey Harriman, both excellent high school teachers. Harvey taught music my senior year, including music history and theory and composition, as well as feeding books to my hungry mind. Doc was a room-mate my sophomore year in college, who encouraged my writing and painting, and also feed me books, making sure that I read them.
Later, I edited poetry for Christianity & Literature, the journal of the Conference on Christianity and Literature. (If that rings a bell with you, I did that as "," my name in thosedays.) Back then, Christianity & Literature wore itsscholarship lightly; the journal wasn't that different in tone, style,layout, printing technology from many of the little mags of the day.It was lively. The last time I saw it, sadly, C&L had become ponderously "serious" and "important," publication in which would advance one's "career."
The submissions I received for Christianity & Literature were mostly done right. However, I did receive submissions with no cover letter; submissions with long, self-justifying cover letters; submissions of only one poem; submissions of the poet's whole oeuvre . . . you get the picture.
I learned early to use canned rejection slips. Initially, I tried to write a personal note to each poet. I got some really nasty responses, so I stopped. (I wasn't intentionally flaming anyone. But everyone knows poets are sensitive, right?)
The 1970s and 1980s saw an outburst of evangelical Christian poets, including many good writers such as Luci Shaw, Jack Leax, Sandra Duguid, Mary Balazs, Lionel Basney, and others whose names escape me right now. I was fortunate in being able to bring some of their work into print. Poetry and evangelical Christianity are an unstable mixture. It seems to have come apart fifteen or twenty years ago--or perhaps my own personal changes make it seem so.Anyway, in submitting my own poems electronically, I have tried to apply the guidelines from print 'zines. And as an electronic editor, I like to see submissions that follow them: a short cover note, a few poems, no nonsense, apologies, self-criticism, tirades, and so endlessly on. I read poems for The Ghazal Page, of course, and also for Recursive Angel, which is quiescent right now. That doesn't mean that folks don't send a poem now and then, totally clueless as to what Recursive Angel is all about.
And that brings me to the most important point about submissions, something my mentors made sure I understood: know something about the publication before you submit poems to it. Don't send poems to a journal for which they're inappropriate; follow the journal's announced policies for submission.
I think many poets submitting electronically to web 'zines do so sloppily--even rudely--because there is nothing to tell them any different. And, like want-to-be-published poets in the past, they don't bother to get familiar with the 'zine they're sending work to nor do they read the editor's policies. Then they wonder why the editor never responds.
I must add that folks sending me ghazals do so according to my guidelines, for the most part. I don't have any real complaints with them. I'm always excited when I receive a submission--who knows what gems are there?
Power OutageEarly Monday afternoon (August 4), a transformer blew up at a substation that supplies electricity to Rolla, MO, where I live. Look, Ma, no power!
This substation is the gateway--or bottleneck--for electricity coming to the communities of Rolla and St. James. The transformer apparently exploded, spewing hot oil that resulted in an extensive blaze. Fortunately, the second transformer wasn't damaged. However, power was out for over 30 hours.
Among other, more serious issues, that means that The Ghazal Page was unavailable for awhile. I know at least one person who tried to access it and couldn't. If there were others, I hope they were patient and tried later. We had internet access at home because our ISP gets power from a different source.
What? Weren't we powerless at home? For most of the outage, we did have power: Rolla has several backup generators, not enough for the whole city, but enough to power essential services and up to a third of the city. We live within a block of three of those services: the sheriff's departmentand jail,the county courthouse, and the main fire station. We lucked out by proximity.
I don't know of any serious injuries or property loss due to the outage. People with medical necessities were taken care of. Some folks lost perishables, but not more. My wife works at a health food store that also used a generator to power its coolers and freezers.
This topic is relevant to ghazals insofar as The Ghazal Page was affected. Thought I'd post this note as this week's blog and go back to packing books (see the next entry).
I hope to post another entry on meter in ghazals late next week.
Literary TriageI've been disturbing the dust on some age-browned pages. The floor in my room needs repair, so I have to empty it. Yow! There are, at a loose estimate, 60 shelf-feet of books, 12 of CDs, as well as cassette tapes, paintings . . . .
Anyway, I've just pulled a lot of small magazines and chapbooks off the shelves. Some of these date back 40 years. Many have my poems or prose in them. What a difference a few decades of aging makes (my aging, the pages' aging). When those mags were brand-spanking new, arriving in my mailbox, I opened their envelopes as eagerly as one undresses a new lover. (Not that I know about that, dear wife!)
Once fresh, new, exciting, even virgin, now dulled and brittle with the passage of time. I didn't even open them to reread the amazing poems that were going to make me famous. Precious words lost in dust and water-stains.
I'm performing triage on these items as they come off the shelves: one pile will come back into my room and onto the shelves when the repairs are done; one pile will go into exile in the "cottage" behind our house; one pile will be given away or sold. I don't know if I can bring myself to throw a book away even though no one wants it.
The cottage is an L-shaped building with a two-room rental unit occupying most of it; one end is the "garage"--where the lawnmower, old storm windows, the ladders, the cats, and scraps of lumber live. We haven't rented the cottage for several years, reserving it for storage and a rather tattered guest house.I imagine most reading this piece will relate both to the excitment of a new publication and the addiction to reading. I've had a print jones since the age of four, when suddenly the text in a Calling All Kids comicbook made sense to me and I found myself reading. It's all been late nights and eye-strain since then.
Coming to the computer and writing this entry was a dodge to get out of the dust, crumbling paper, and sadness of writing no one cares to read. Good writing, to be sure, much of it (with no comment on my own efforts). The dog--a 7.5 month mixed breed bitch--is very unsure about what I'm doing. She sleeps in a decrepit recliner in my room, but last night it seemed she didn't want to climb into it. Perhaps she responds to the mixtureof feelings with which I'm carrying out this project.
Meter in GhazalsIn the discussions of ghazal form I've seen, the neglected topic is meter. The traditional ghazal, in Arabic, Farsi, Urdu, etc, is under strict metrical rules: the same "beher" (meter) is required in each line. This definition, from a web site in both English and Urdu, is representative:
"Both the lines in the Sher ["couplet"] *MUST* be of same 'Beher' ["meter"]. And all the Sher's in one Ghazal *MUST* be of the same 'Beher'." [from ]In some ways, the metrical prescription is more a difficulty than the rules for the mono-rhyme (qafiya) and the refrain (radif). English--American--metrics use stress as the unit. Other languages use syllable counts or vowel lengths.
Of course, most English/American meters are based on a combination of syllable-counts and stress-counts. Lest any reader be deceived into accepting the old truism that "iambic pentameter is the natural meter of English," I refer you to Derek Attridge's The Rhythms of English Poetry (Longman 1982). His argument is too technical and complex to summarize here, but the gist is that the natural meter in English is a four-beat line in a four-line stanze--the old ballad and hymn stanza.
Attridge discovers the many variations on the 4 x 4 form; if you want to see them applied practically, look in any traditional hymnal, where you'll find the hymns categorized according to their meters: common metter, long meter, short meter, and others. Any hymns with the same meter can be sung to the same tune, which is why hymnals have the metrical indices. And you can sing most of Emily Dickinson's poems to hymn tunes once you've identified the appropriate meter.
Attridge dismisses the nonsense of "feet" in an English line (or American) line. The relevant features are
Attridge argues that a three-beat line has, in effect, a fourth "silent" beat. He convinced me.
So, the "basic" poetic form in English is a four-line stanza, with each line have three or four stressed syllables, and having six to nine syllables in all.
One reason Attridge convinced me is that I had, in my unscholarly fashion, arrived at essentially the same ideas through teaching students to scan verse. The old "foot" system just doesn't work, not without lots and lots of special pleading and ignoring many actual, effective poems.
One other thing, then I'll talk some about meter in ghazals.
Consider these terms: free verse, open verse, organic verse, projective verse. Them is fighting words, as you well know. I lost interest in this fight decades ago, because partisans on both sides tend to ignorance of our language and mostly have tin ears. In my experience, many people cannot distinguish free from metrical poetry when it is read aloud or read it effectively themselves.
Okay, so I'm cranky. This topic takes me back to some quarrelsome times. This blog isn't the place to go into details, but here's the basics:
In spoken English, there are four levels of significant stress. In metrics, only two levels are considered. Thus, metrical analysis is abstract and misleading. Read Attridge, read the Shapiro and Beum handbook I discussed previously in this blog.
A couple quick examples:
And the point? Some "free verse" makes adroit use of speech rhythms to achieve metrical effects outside those achievable in traditional meters. There's no space here to go into details. Try reading some free verse aloud, naturally and comfortably. With some poets, use a noticable (though slight, perhaps) pause at the end of each line. Denise Levertov's verse, for example, reads well this way.
Some preliminary suggestions for meter in ghazals:
Most important, let's educate our ears by reading a wide variety of poetry, reading it outloud, paying attention to the actual rhythms. Too many wanta-be poets read no poetry. Too many who do read poetry read only what is really congenial. Find anthologies like Louis Zukofsky's A Test of Poetry or Ezra Pound's From Confucius to Cummings and read them thoroughly. Stay away from the in-group anthologies of "contemporary poetry," which tend to be too buddy-oriented.
I expect to continue this discussionin further entries. If you have thoughts on the matter, please share them.
Hafiz: 50 GhazalsIn Springfield, Missouri, I ran across one of the best used bookstores I've seen. No, it's not Moe's or Shakespeare's, which I enjoyed years ago in Berkeley. But Hooked on Books is good.
Several years ago, I chanced across a copy of Fifty Poems of Hafiz, Texts and Translations Collected and Made, Introduced and Annotated by Arthur J. Arberry. (I omit his degrees and position at Cambridge.) This wonderful book was published by Cambridge University Press in 1947 and reprinted with corrections in 1953.
An inscription on the flyleaf indicates the book was purchased in Tehran in 1959; I bought it in October of 1998.
I'm sure some of you are aware of Arberry's role in making Arabic and Persian literature available to the West. This book consists of a lengthy introduction, the ghazals in Farsi script, and the translations. There is also a set of textual notes for those who can profit from them (literacy in Farsi a prerequisite).
The translators include fifteen names, of which Arberry's is the best-known. I don't really recognize any of the others, but that's likely due to my ignorance. One, William Jones, is identified by Arberry as "the father of Persian studies in the west." (Ah yeah. That will be on the exam.)
The forms of the translations range from couplets to quatrains to six-line stanzas, all with varied rhyme schemes. Most interesting, perhaps, are the few translations that use monorhyme and one, by Elizabeth Bridges (Daryush) that appears to use the radif at the end of somewhat clunky five-line stanzas--the phrase "I send to thee" making a sixth short line.
Another, by H. Bicknell uses the radif "Recall"; Bicknell also uses couplets, each with its own rhyme rather than using a qafiya. His opening couplet replicates the matla of the traditional ghazal and the last couple has Hafiz's name as a signature. Unfortunately, the poem, like most of the translations, isn't much as English poetry.
This collection is surely of interest mainly to those interested in Persian literature and those interested in the ghazal as a form. I did a couple of Googles; the only result I'll give here is this page which lists this book for $US 21.50. I'm sure diligence could uncover others. Whether the book is actually available is another question. Buyer beware.
There's also a Yahoo Group devoted to Hafiz. In my hasty perusal of the search results, it looks like there's a certain amount occult connections with Hafiz. Again, buyer beware.
Make It New!When is a blog not a blog? (And are they always exercises in egotism?) If a blog requires entries daily (if not more frequently), then this little twig caught in the Web doesn't qualify. I knew that when I started it, but I like the idea of a place on The Ghazal Page where I can post opinions, information, news and links. And this place is it, blog or not.
Is poetry compatible with the implied pace and frequency of a blog? Isn't that a matter of temperament? "When I was a child, I spake as a child . . . ," but now, now, I'm over sixty and courting retirement. Back in the day, when I was young and green, hasty, I thought nothing better than innovation, novelty, anything to shock the squares. (Am I copping to being a square? In a word, "Who knows?")
Ezra Pound, not only a major twentieth century poet, but a dynamic influence on poetry and other arts, exhorts us,
"Make it new!"and claims to have learned that from Confucius. In his influential The ABC of Reading, Pound defines poetry as "news that stays news." I still find that definition stimulating.
I hadn't really thought to go to Pound when I got the idea for this entry. If I really could "make it new" everyday, as Pound exhorts us, then I probably could write a daily blog. As it is, once every week or two looks like my pace. I will make more effort for once a week, folks.
I am still planning to update the Links page. I have the materials to do that; it's just a matter of time and energy. If nothing else, I enjoy the challenge of writing these entries.
Agha Shahid AliAgha Shahid Ali was a poet from Kashmir, resident in the US for a number of years. He was a vehement proponent of the traditional ghazal. He wrote a fine, terse explanation of the form. I recommend this explanation for its clarity and force. Poets who write poems they call ghazals should at least know what Shahid has to say, even if they vary the form from his description.
Several years ago, Jane Reichhold, of AHA Books, sent me Shahid's pieceon ghazals from the Poetry Pilot. This essay opened my eyes to aspects of the ghazal I hadn't been exposed to before. While I sympathized with Shahid's resentment of "Western literary imperialism." I also felt he could not determine the course of the ghazal in English. Affect the development of ghazaks in English, yes. We all owe him a debt for his passionate arguments for the "real" ghazal.
The Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts, has an for Agha Shahid Ali. The American Academy of Poets site also has a biographical , with three linked poems, one a ghazal. A longer biography, with linked reminiscences may be found at .
Only a brief entry this week. Once a week seems about right for me; I hope you find the links helpful and read Agha Shahid Ali and others. I hope within a week to post some new ghazals and review by Colin Flanigan.
A Ghazal by Any Other NameThere may be a (reasonably) simple solution to the discussions about what counts as a ghazal in English. I propose that "ghazals" without radif or qafia--and perhaps without matla and makhta be called "shers" instead.
That term would apply to one or more couplets written in the ghazal spirit. (And "ghazal spirit" is what? I'd say, offhand, the disunities, the skip, the jump, the wide-ranging emotions, images, themes.) A poem in couplets, especially one in which sentences carry over between couplets, a poem in couplets with a rhyme scheme other than monorhyme (qafia) would not qualify as "shers" no matter how good otherwise.
There is good precedent for this proposal, and I may, in my ignorance, be proposing a usage that is already common in South Asian languages.
Some of Ghalib's work is single couplets, for instance, number 2 in Love Sonnets of Ghalib, with translations and explications by Dr. Sarafaz K. Niaz. This "ghazal" reads, in Dr. Niaz's translation,
The gift of wound, the souvenir of diamond, the offering of a scarred heart.Note Ghalib's use of his pen-name.
Ghazals, Shers, and FardsThis precedent would justify calling even a single sher a ghazal, as is stated directly in a Columbia University site on Ghalib. This page says: "The shortest possible ghazal (called an 'individual') is one verse long, . . . "; a link goes to this definition of individual: "fard" (individual verse) -- A verse presented in isolation, as a kind of mini-ghazal."
My proposal is to call a group of couplets without radif, qafia, matla, or makhta, "shers." A single, independent sher could be called a "sher" or a "fard." I think "sher" would be best to keep the terminology simple. I haven't decided yet how to implement this proposal on The Ghazal Page, but I do plan to make use of it in some way.
Dr. Niaz's book is well worth the $25 US Amazon charges for it. I have just begun reading it; it is fascinating and rewarding. It was published by Rupa & Co. of New Delhi in 2002.
Comments on Some Ghazal LinksI've been searching for links to sites that deal with ghazals. I plan to update the file of links on The Ghazal Page. If you've ever done a search like this, you know you get thousands of hits, many to Bollywood film music and Asian popular music. There are also a number of sites on ghazals in languages like Urdu and on the classic ghazal poets.
And then there are the sites on ghazals in English. Some of these are excellent; others are simply distressing. I want to comment on a couple of the distressing ones.
Ghazals for GraduatesThe Goshen College site gives us two "Ghazals for the College Graduate". Although I feel a little churlish criticizing these two verses, they show a couple of things.
First, ghazals are becoming well enough known that they appear in a context like this. That's a good thing.
Second, the bad thing: as ghazals, these pieces aren't even good free verse ghazals. Onei and two-line stanzas are mixed together. Thus, there areno formal ghazal features in these pieces.
These pieces remind me of the many pseudo-haiku published on the internet, broadcast on NPR, and otherwise disseminated. Apparently, no one, including well-known mainstream poets, will take the trouble to find out what has been done with haiku in English. This page gives a good discussion of the issues and historical context.These pseudo-ghazals raise a point for those of us who seriously want ghazals to be naturalized as an English form: the only way we can work toward a "real English ghazal" is by creating superior poems in the form. And exploring all the possibilities of the form.
All the same, I don't feel quite right picking on these amateurish poems.
A "free verse ghazal"A slightly different case: Sandhill Review, based at Stanford University, has a web site, on which this ghazal appears. (There are no links out of the page with this poem on it, bythe way:poor web design.)
The poem is titles "ghazals from the tub"; the author isJudith Bishop. (The title suggests that she thinks the couplets--sher--are the ghazals.) The poem has five couplets, with leaps between them. Other than that, there's not much "ghazally" about them. The poem consists of the poet's observations, with little else. I admire the imagist and objectivist poets greatly, but flat, bland verses like this one are an unfortunate part of their legacy.
Here are the first two couplets:
after dawn, i want to bathe,Go to the web site and read the whole poem for yourself. If you disagree with my assessment, let me know. I will post insightful comments.
"Ghazals" like these call me to greater effort. I hope you find them challenging also. I have written "free verse" ghazals and published such by other people. I probably will do so again. But I hope with a greater sense of the inherent traits that make a poem a ghazal.
Thu Jun 5 10:01:23 2003
Two Books on PoeticsYears ago, I bought A Prosody Handbook, by Karl Shapiro and Robert Beum. This note is my recommendation of this book. Shapiro is one of the key poets of the 20th century, although he is now neglected. A Prosody Handbook taught me a lot about rhythm, rhyme, stanzaic forms, traditional verse forms, all in clear and entertaining prose. I have since recommended it frequently. Unfortunately, it was out of print by the time I started teaching creative writing or I would have used it as a textbook. I have bought used copies for gifts.
I did a search on The Advanced Book Exchange and got 23 hits. Most of the sellers want around $10 US, a reasonable price. If you have never used ABE, my experience has been good when I've order from stores accessed there.
For a contrast, there is The Book of Forms: A Handbook of Poetics, by Lewis Turco. (ABE also has it, if you're interested.) Turco's approach is formulaic--a sonnet, a cinquain, a villanelle--all forms are reduced to abstract notation. The Book of Forms is dreadfully abstract and lacks the human depth of Shapiro and Beum's book. While The Book of Forms remained in print, and went through several editions, I have never recommended it or used it as textbook.
I have some other books of poetics and how-to-write-poetry that I may comment on in the future. If anyone reading this note has a favorite that they'd like to describe briefly, I'm sure I can find the bytes to post their comments. A poet who avoids poetics (prosody) drastically limits his or her scope.
Fri May 30 10:42:53 2003
Is Poetry Dead?Is poetry dead?
An article in Newsweek (2003 May 5) answers "Yes." In a "My Turn" column,Bruce Wexler, argues that "Poetry Is Dead," and asks, "Does AnyoneReally Care?"
Struck me as a good thesis to argue. Who, besides poets, cares aboutpoetry? Do the teachers who bore class after class with poetry care?If they did, would they do what they do the way they do it?
Wexler attributes poetry's death to adolscent boredom, adult concerns(career and family), a simplistic society that abhors "ambiguity,complexity, and paradox."
One of Wexler's best points is that "the number of people creating[poetry] is far greater than the number of people appreciating it."Contest organizers consistently complain that, out of many entrants,almost none buy the prize-winning book.
A poetry book club recently closed up. Any poet, receiving a journalwith his/her work in it, immediately finds his/her poem(s) and oftenreads very little else in the journal. (Admit it, don't you do that? Iknow I do.) All this leads to a suspicion that "poetry" (if we canaccept such an abstraction) died of suffocation--the thousands ofpoets and would-be poets piled on the muse and smothered her.
One reason poetry is dead because many more people want to be poetsthan want to read poetry. Why?
Consider: in mainstream American society, there's very little money inpoetry, there's little fame in poetry, and very few will read one'spoems.
Granted, "being a poet" might get one laid in the rightcircumstances--if there are no musicians, actors, or athletesavailable.Nothing can compete with the personal and professional rivalry,jealousy, and outright hatred among poets. It'spathetic to see peoplesavaging each other over . . . what? A mere handful of trivial rewards.
Wexler ends his piece with an ironic acknowledgement of the value ofpoetry. But he makes it clear he won't be reading any books of newverse soon. Will you? Will I?
And, honestly, why should we?
Excepting your poems and mine, contemporary American verse is inpretty sad shape.
I'd say, "Lay down your pen and pick up a book," but that'sanachronistic. Instead, say I, "Close your word processor and surf to apoetry site."
Even better, log off, go to a bookstore or library, and find a volume of poetry to read--ancient poetry, American poetry, Asian poetry, old poetry, new poetry--find a book and taste it. If it's insipid or nauseating, spit it out and try another. You will find poetry that opens your doors.
Wed May 28 16:41:15 CDT 2003
Who Is Gino?Shall I post an explanation of who Gino Peregrini is? Do I want toavoid misconceptions, create more misconceptions, or just let thingsstay as they are?
How can things stay as they are? Everything changes, as so often said.
Gino Peregrini"Gino Peregrini" is a pen-name, a "nom d' web," used by Gene Doty. And why do I use this sobriquet? Being Gino Peregrini puts me in a different frame, gives me a different stance, than being Gene Doty. It's that simple. (Or, maybe, it isn't simple at all.)
Where "Gino" Came FromOnce upon a time, a Kansas farm boy dated a girl from Kansas City, Kansas. This girl came to the farm boy's county to visit her grandparents. She initially dated a friend of the farm boy, but that soon changed. She began calling the farm boy "Gino," and he picked up on the nickname and used it often.
Later, when the farm boy was a college student, he discovered that there were people who knew him only as Gino. He retained the nickname into marriage, using it mostly with friends.
Where "Peregrini" Came FromGino always wanted a surnname to go with "Gino." His own legal surname just didn't feel right. Reading about Celtic Christian spirituality, he (re)discovered the word "peregrine," the name of a falcon, meaning a pilgrim, a wanderer, a sojourner. That fit, and Gino added it in the form "Peregrini."
ConsequencesNot many. Some folks have assumed that Gino Peregrini is Italian; I have even received email in Italian. Not a problem for me, although I don't want to masquerade too much. But I've been Gino for so many years, the name is natural to me; Peregrini, understood as "sojourner," also resonates with my sense of identity.
And?"And" nothing. I'm not going to change any names or the contexts of their usage. But perhaps, if you've wondered who Gino Peregrini is, you now have a clearer context in which to wonder.