how not to write a ghazal

It shouldn’t be, but to me it often is, a surprise how the form of a poem shapes its content. A sonnet, as Don Paterson says, is just the shape and length of a particular kind of thought, a proposition which I have twice found to be the case. A villanelle, if it is to work properly, has to express and sum up a really strong mood or insight, so as to stand up to all that repetition. A ballad is not only a story, but a particular kind of story that will move quickly and take the stripped down plot and the archetypal characters.
A ghazal, as I learned at Juliet Wilson’s workshop, is a poem made up of rhymed couplets, each of which ends with the same word or phrase. The chosen phrase, I thought, would have to be quite powerful in itself, admit of considerable variation of emphasis and have to have a very simple word, easy to rhyme, before it. So this is mine:

Going Home
She will go back there one day, but not yet.
She has not had long enough away, not yet.

It will have to be soon, before things change
so much that she will lose her way, but not yet.

She knows she would be welcome again.
They would even expect her to stay. Not yet.

Has she got what she wanted from leaving?
It is still far too soon to say. Not yet.

But has she forgotten the places
where the children used to play? Not yet.

I am a lot happier about this than I was when I wrote it,but I still think it misses the point. I was looking for some driving thought, some sense of progress through the poem, and this is a form which, it seems, is inimical to that sort of thing. A ghazal is meant to be meditative, cumulative. It doesn’t matter to a ghazal where a particular couplet is placed, or if you come to a conclusion by the end. The effect it want is a timeless heaping up of image and impression and creation of mood. It seems entirely appropriate that it is usually written to express ‘longing’.

I think I will have to start again!

2 Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *