Friday, May 26, 2023

Poetry Friday: The Ghazal

"The Weather" by Laurie Anderson,
Exhibit at the Hirshhorn Museum, Washington DC

I'm not sure about this one-- maybe because lore has it the ghazal takes its name from the noise a gazelle makes while dying? I certainly gasped my last a few times, working on this non-narrative form which is held together with one rhyme that comes directly before a repeated ending refrain.  The first couplet signals the ghazal form's arrival by doing this twice; the rest of the couplets only have the rhyme/refrain combo in the second line.

And I say again: it's non-narrative. No story telling allowed. The effect is supposed to be one of a string of beads, each sufficient unto itself but tied together by the refrain. Or perhaps a mirror, shattered into revealing shards. Finally,  it's traditional for the poet to mention herself in the last couplet.  Ooof.  

I dunno.  To me, writing this felt like being made to comply with strict rules and yet, being completely adrift without narrative at the same time. But enough about process. This is about trying. DOING. Letting things be as they are and inviting the reader to make their own connections. Perhaps that, too is a form of our 2023 theme of transformation (conversion, alteration, metamorphosis, mutation, growth, evolution, revision, modulation, change.. )  I'm still not sure, but as I sprinkled a few of those transformation words into my ghazal, I could feel a poem forming....

Half the world

They say the ad is for oysters, yet there she is, but half
mutated—her mermaid tail the gut half;

They say if we bow to modulation twelve times a day, 
our risk of dying (but they only studied men) is cut by half.

They say: Someone else. Somewhere else.
Can’t you see evolution dictates we shut out half?

They say we can’t write of overflowing life-altering loss, of not now, 
not whole, of not even close to having somewhat half.

They say: would we like roast chicken with homegrown kumquats
and kale salad or hey, catch! one stale doughnut half?

They say I shouldn’t laugh at the erupting fountain 
when I chop the hairy shell of a coconut in half.

---Sara Lewis Holmes (all rights reserved)

You can read more about the form here.  And my poetry sisters' ghazals can be found here:


Poetry Friday is hosted today by Patricia at Reverie. 


  1. I love this with my WHOLE heart! Wow. The added repetition of "They say" is so powerful.

    1. Thanks, Mary Lee. I did wonder if I was cheating a bit by adding that additional refrain but perhaps it's a variation of form or maybe I'll call it a double ghazal...

  2. I think my favorite couplet is the "They say, someone else. Somewhere else." That's just such a human response - and I agree that the repetition of "they say" helped to be the strings holding together these shiny, reflective mirror beads of yours. As always, you somehow made it work and read so effortlessly - not half a truth at all, but a whole one.

  3. Non-narrative and yet it speaks truth - with a gut punch. Something about that repeating end-word brings it home. When is half of anything ever the whole story?

  4. Wonderful with the double repeating, Sara. I am inclined to write "they say" that poets' poems are difficult to understand, but that's the fun of it, right, to take what one wishes from the whole, or only the 'half'? I love what you wrote.

  5. As everyone else mentioned, I love the repetition of "They say" ... oh, the things "they" say. You created a beautiful string of beads (they say, and in this case, I agree wholeheartedly.)

  6. I totally hated the non-narrative and yet totally disconnected way these were supposed to work. Just couldn't do it. AND I totally forgot about transformation. This was not my finest hour :>D I love the defiance you captured in your ghazal, Sara. And screw "them."

  7. First, the stale donut made me laugh out loud. Second, you did sneak in some enjambment, and it works beautifully. You may not think you met the challenge of this form, but you've captured it entirely.

  8. Most things, re: health, were only studied in men and so good you captured that. I like the surprise in your poem, like stale donut half and hairy coconuts.

  9. Sara, Anonymous is me, Janice S. :)

  10. Sara, I think the ghazal works best when you let go of practically everything except the refrain, which then leads to wild gazelle-like leaps from bead to bead on one beautiful chain. This one works just like that, although I find its vibe less beautiful and more challenging--in a good way!

  11. The ghazal form seems totally overwhelming to me. I don't know if I'll ever try it. But... what you wrote... whether it follows all the rules or not... what you wrote is quite fabulous. Kudos!!!

  12. I kind of love how everyone is a little ticked off by this prompt... Also, dittoing everyone who LOVES the "They say..." Really, really resonant.


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