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The Ghazal: Writing Prompt

If you are using this week's prompt to write a prose piece (or create visual art) or form poetry does not excite you at this point in your life, your prompt is to write about a time when the weather changed your life in some way.

For the poets, this week's prompt is to write a ghazal (pronounced as the English word guzzle).

This is a Persian form that consists of couplets (a minimum of 5, and usually no more than 15). That's the easy part!

Each couplet should be a complete thought.

Traditionally, each line is the same length.

In the first couplet, the last words of the two lines are the same word.

The last line contains the poet's name (or the speaker's name).

The couplets after the first follow a strict pattern. The first line can end with any word. The second, however, must end with the first couplet's last word. This word should be preceded by one or two words/syllables before it that rhyme.

In today's blog poem, Even the Rain, Agha Shahid Ali repeats rather than rhymes that last 3 words, which also happen to be the title. Each couplet's second line ends with the phrase "even the rain."

Patricia Smith's wonderful Hip-Hop Ghazal (which you can find here) rhymes "blue hips" with "woo hips," "thru hips," "glue hips," etc. It's an amazing poem.

An interesting article about Adrienne Rich's ghazals (she was the first American poet to have ghazals published) can be found here. Rich broke away from many of the traditional rules of the ghazal, particularly the rhyme.

Another ghazal that rhymes but plays with the couplet form is by Heather McHigh and can be found here.

Agha Shahid Ali, who wrote the poem on the blog today, is very much responsible for its current popularity and the love American poets have for this form. Besides writing them himself, Ali also edited an anthology of ghazals by contemporary poets, and this anthology runs the gamut from strictly traditional to loosen-goosey as far as the traditional form. The anthology is called Ravishing DisUnities: Real Ghazals in English, and it was published in 2000, a year before Ali died.

As with all forms, the closer you stick with the rules, the tougher it is to write. But--as with all forms--it is definitely worth trying (and reading the ghazals of others). The attention to words and the couplet criteria are invaluable challenges for any poet.

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