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September 1999

If you have been pronouncing the term as gay-zaal (as I did), it's wrong - the actual Arabic is supposed to sound more like ghuzzle. Ghazal originated in Iran in the 10th century A.D. The ghazal seldom exceeded twelve stanzas, and generally has five to eight in its modern form. It is a short poem made up of long-lined couplets in the same meter.

The opening couplet of the ghazal is always a representative couplet: it sets the mood and tone of the poem and prepares us for its proper appreciation. The last couplet of the ghazal sometimes includes the name of the poet, and is more personal than general in its tone and intent. Here the poet may express his own state of mind. The different couplets of the ghazal are not bound by the unity and consistency of thought.

Each couplet is a self-sufficient unit, detachable and quotable, generally containing the complete expression of an idea. The couplets may be united by meter and rhyme, or by a subtle theme and content; thus each couplet is intended to constitute a discrete entity - like a pearl in a necklace or a flower in a garland. ( for example, the star references that run through both poems by Adrienne Rich that were originally used to illustrate this prompt.)

They are often titled simply ghazal or the word ghazal appears as part of the title - such as "Ghazal for a Dry Season", "Green Ghazal." Although the ghazal deals with the whole spectrum of human experience, its central concern is love. Ghazal is an Arabic word which literally means talking to women & is sometimes translated as "the talk of boys & girls."

You'll notice that some poets have chosen to be faithful to the "rules" (ending each stanza with the same word, or including their name - perhaps in lower case - in the final stanza and others have taken a freer approach to the form. Letter of the law, spirit of the law...

Further Reading: read more about the form in The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry. 

Adrienne Rich translated a series of these poems in her book Delos (out of print), as did Robert Bly in Night and Sleep and Coleman Barks' in his translations of Rumi.

More information on the classical ghazal form.

For more on all our prompts and other things poetic, check out the Poets Online blog.


Late summer an unexpected crop: beans veiled by hand-shaped leaves.
I lift one veil: green leaves, green vine, the bean a hidden lover.

Around me, threat of storm.  Drums rattle the car stereo:
thunderous.  A tenor sings angrily to his lover.

When the pond is full, a tranquil surface.  Empty these long weeks,
it absorbs each drop of rain hungrily, as a lover.

It is raining where you are.  Here damp air lies against my skin,
a veil of moisture.  Its touch is not unlike a lovers.

How am I like the mist?  I am more tangible than air, yet
I might evaporate in the warm arms of a lover.

Take away my garden and the air and I am a woman
gasping only for ordinary things, not for her lover.

This is how it is:  my car, my house, my son, myself, our pace
slow on this long road.  You are the destination, my lover.

Laura Shovan


If wisdom comes with aging, why are we so bad
at passing it to children, now so madly sad?

We drink and smoke away our leisure-time as couch-
potatoes; and we wonder why our children slouch.

We all have learned of power behind the wheel,  but youth -
uncouth - has also learned of death,  its other truth.

We have known - while cause is right  - that war is hell;
But still we train all willing lads in killing well.

Though Catherine M. knows many ways to get to heaven,
she wonders in what ways she has prepared her seven.

Catherine M. LeGault


The stone that beats beneath my breast feeds me.
I breathe in air, breathe out lies that circle around me like halos.

Every autumn, ladybugs, red and winged, infest the house.
I close all doors to too much luck and vacuum them to death.

Sometimes the music disappears, drowned out by the sopranos.
I press my hands to my ears to keep the melody out.

The chameleon confuses both predators and lovers;
It is caught in a trap, doesn't know the color of its own skin.

The curtain is too heavy now to see outside.
I am taunted by breeze that pushes at the fabric's edge.

Susan Kaye


Inside a black Jeep S.U.V
She smiles into her cell phone.

Who is your daughter wired to when
She keys e-mail to "cyberboy"?

A chorus of strangers laughs to hear
The punch line just before it comes.

Why go to see the Broadway Show?
Reviews exhaust the possible.

Over the lake I hear my voice
Coming back in paraphrase.

 Jim O'Rourke


You could be the girl at the Pittsburgh wedding,
the Beer Barrel Polka an afterthought -- gloomy burp,

or you could be the other girl: Miss Sun Bronze Bikini
adjusting her glittery thong in the afterglow.  Mirror.

If he wears Old Spice, does this make it better?
Will he sail after you more discreetly than ever?

He weighs so much -- a hard ton, and his shoes are undignified.
Everything hampers him, his own tongue, the words it laps.

The waiter serves salt, nothing libatious.
It's all there in the photograph: your crown.

When the days come at you, you'll have to understand.
The crickets do what they know to be the best bright thing.

Or you could almost be sad.  Patience could strangle you with her delicate glove.
Or you could write harder, harder, until it is.

Mary DeBow


Dead blazes simmer beneath the skin of the city.
Icy air numbs the sidewalk there-- I number my steps.

In a wooden kitchen bowl butter and sugar cream
together.  How long must I wait for sweet surrender?

Once you lived in the heart of heat.  A cold pilgrim,
I begged your eyes to burn me, and they did, they did.

I study sycamore, quaking aspen, and tulip oak;
deciduous all.  Not thinking to end, they blurt out green.

The ground shall come to muffle me, cover me, quiet me.
I splash my laughter over you and weave you a crown of daisies.

We build a bonfire out of days and glances.  It dances
and flares, threatens to purify us, grows to consume us.

Margaret Valentine


Water from the spring runoff tasting like childhood snow,
I fill my metal Sierra cup again and again.

She said," I miss you," and all I could do
was stare into the ice in her glass.

Sweating a copper pipe with the blue flame,
the solder rushes to fill the gap and join.

The votive candle in its red glass cup consumes the wax,
leaving a soft skin and charred center of sorrow or guilt.

From the treeline on Kilimanjaro, my home is beyond
the ken of my vision and of my understanding.

Ken Ronkowitz


At the waterline, the taste of salt, sound of water,
feel of cold autumn, the sight of my daughter.

The shortening daylight makes me think
that the plant's turning sunward is even sadder.

The church bell rings at noon and I am home
to hear it and stop talking on the phone.

The blue chambray shirt was lying in the sun.
When I put it on I could smell you around me.

At dinner, the seasonings overpower me, I fall
into you, I awaken with my tongue parched.

Lianna Wright


On Mott Street the apples are unwaveringly sincere.
Their believable rows against the green tissue in the pine box: a clough bleed.

Outside the girls gather apples to wear below their hearts.
The fruit labors in preparation for the rough bleed.

My heart, my heart, you are against me again!
The moon is on fire. The night translates the sough: bleed.

The sun is thatch plaited into flame. Again: flame.
Doctors, like priests, transfigure the tough bleed.

The cardinal flames and shakes into the dappled green.
All must be riven thus. To cope is not enough. Bleed.

Mary DeBow