Ravishing DisUnities: Real Ghazals in English
Having written ghazals (pronounced "ghuzzle") myself I was immediately drawn to this anthology of English language poems in this ancient Arabic form. Formed of couplets that have no apparent thematic connection, a ghazal builds an eerie aroma of meaning from its "ravishing disunity." Original ghazals remain "melancholic and amorous." The opening couplet sets up the rhyme scheme which must follow at the end of each couplet's second line. Traditionally, the poet closes the final couplet by invoking his or her own name. Poets of note such as Heather McHugh, John Hollander, W.S. Merwin, Forrest Gander, Stanley Plumly, J.D. McClatchy, and Maxine Kumin give their voices to this work of 107 poets. Mr. Ali offers an animated discussion of the history of the ghazal, and a polemic against the less strict ghazals (like my own) which resulted from the 1971 Ghazals of Ghalib (edited by Aijaz Ahmad) which versions allowed much more freedom from the strict traditional form. Mr. Ali claims not to be too rabid about exorcising less resolute ghazals from the canon, but his words are pretty strong. It seems, however, he mainly wants to strike a balance—and articulates an excitement about the freedom in structure which the form allows—while celebrating the form's pure capacity for amusement.
This anthology eschews any but the most formally strict ghazals, and it is a pleasure to discern a wild abandonment hidden within the poems. The ghazal allows for any subject although it seems many of the poets here avoid the melancholic and amorous for a more jocular approach. This seems to me the real danger. Such a strict form lends itself easily to caricature in American hands—which would be a worse fate than poems that might somehow break the form. I admit I haven't read the whole anthology yet, but I'm eager to dip into it regularly to see what treasures may hide therein. Ravishing DisUnities can only serve to add another tool to the poet's toolbox, one which, I know, we Americans will find ways not only of honoring to the rule of law, but also to its spirit.