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Ghazal of the Lagoon -- John Drury

Guest poem sent in by Mark G. Ryan
(Poem #1161) Ghazal of the Lagoon
 Morning, on the promenade, there's a break in the light
 rain here in the serene republic.  I take in the light.

 Every walker gets lucky at this gaming table,
 where the gondoliers, like croupiers, rake in the light.

 Through the glare of a restaurants window, I see
 fish glinting, like spear points that shake in the light.

 I could sit on the edge and get wet forever,
 all to consider a speed boat's wake in the light.

 Furnaces burn.  We sweat until we shine, fired up
 by the wavy vases glassblowers make in the light.

 Row me out, friars, in your _sandolo_ on the waves
 that glitter like ducats, for God's sake, in the light.
-- John Drury
                   (see footnote [1] for source)

I know little of John Drury except that he has written two books
(The_Poetry_Dictionary and a collection of poems called
The_Disappearing_Town), and that he teaches creative writing at the
University of Cincinnati, where he has won awards for his teaching [2].

This poem caught my eye because it is an almost perfect example of a
ghazal.  The difficulty of pulling off the ghazals form in English is
obvious. But Drury follows the form closely for the most part,  and the
result looks effortless.  The rhymes do not seem forced and the refrain
is noticeable without calling attention to itself.

The only traditional ghazal feature _not_ exemplified in this poem is
the use of the author's pen name in the final couplet.  It is also
short by one couplet, the usual number being 7 to 12.  Given the
scarcity of rhyming words in English, shorter is probably better.

The poem appears on the surface to be little more than a travelogue,
but one senses the presence of another person--a woman--throughout,
especially in the lines:

        Furnaces burn.  We sweat until we shine, fired up
        by the wavy vases glassblowers make in the light.

This fits with the original Arabic meaning of "ghazal", which was
talking about women. The eroticism in this poem is less overt than
in some ghazal, but this does not make it any less real.

Experts mostly agree that the ghazal originated in Arabia.  Today it
is best known from examples in the Persian (Farsi) and Urdu languages,
but Medieval examples exist in Turkish, Pushto, Hebrew and even Spanish.
Interestingly, "This eighth-century form was popularized in the West
by German Romanticists." [3]   It seems to be undergoing a new burst
of popularity today.

One criticism of the last couplet: I am not sure where the "friars" fit
in with the rest of the poem (and the final use of the refrain is a
little disappointing).  But it is a deeply mysterious image, and one that
contrasts strongly with the two lines quoted above.

For anyone interested in the ghazal form and traditional aesthetic,
here is one possible description [4]:


        1. Five to twelve couplets.

        2. Absolutely no enjambment between adjacent couplets.

        3. Both lines of the first couplet must end with a rhyme
          and then a refrain:
                ----------------------- RHYME_A + REFRAIN
                ------------------------RHYME_A + REFRAIN
           The rhyming word must immediately precede the refrain
           in both lines

        4. Each succeeding couplet ends with same rhyme and refrain
           in the second line:
                ------------------------RHYME_A + REFRAIN
           Thus, the rhyme scheme is AA, BA, CA, DA, EA, etc.
           The rhyming word must immediately precede the refrain.

        5. Each line must be of the same length and metrical pattern
           (this is always the case in Urdu and Farsi).  The specific
           meter and pattern depends on the language in which the poem
           is written.

        6. The last couplet usually is a signature couplet, where the
           poet includes his or her pen name.  It can be written in the
           first, second or third person.


        1. The opening couplet should establish the mood and tone for the poem.

        2. The mood of the ghazal in Urdu and Persion is "melancholy and
           amorous" [5].  "What defines the ghazal is constant longing" [6].

        3. Each couplet should be self-sufficient unit, quotable and
           "jewel-like".  Qualities that may be present: epigrammatic
           terseness, lyricism, wit.  Different couplets need not
           express a unity or continuity of thought.

        4. The second line of the couplet usually amplifies the thought
           in the first, or provides a twist or surprise.

Notes on sources:

[1] Collected in:  Agha Shahid Ali, ed. Ravishing Disunities: Real
Ghazals in English (Wesleyan University Press, 2000. p. 54.)


[3] Jack Myers and Michael Simms.  The Longman Dictionary of Poetic
Terms. New York: Longman, 1999.

[4] Loosely based on: Agha Shahid Ali, op. cit., pp. 183-184.

[5] Ahmed Ali, The Golden Tradition. New York, Columbia University Press,
1973; p. 2-22.

[6] Agha Shahid Ali, op. cit., p. 183.

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