The Art of Writing

Ghazal غَزَل : A Shared Form

Punjabi: ਗ਼ਜ਼ਲ, Urdu: غزَل ‬‎, Hindi: ग़ज़ल, Persian: غزل‎, Pashto: غزل‎, Bengali: গজল, Gujarati: ગઝલ,)
The ghazal is an Arabic form of poetry which was adopted in Persian and has spread across the Middle East and into India. Your international students will know what it is: let them tell the UK Students. Arabic students will know it primarily as a form of love poetry, but in other languages it has other uses as an ode and form of devotional poetry too. In English, it is beginning to be used as a cross-national form, about cross-cultural issues.

In Arabic, Persian and Bengali the ghazal has a very elaborate rhyme scheme based around a caesura. This is nearly impossible to make work in English – English just doesn’t have enough rhymes. So contemporary poets writing in English use a simplified version of the ghazal, and that’s what we are going to write and share here. If your international partners want to use their own form of the ghazal, that’s fine, but make sure they agree what that is!

The easiest way to explain the rules of a ghazal to a class is to share the examples, probably starting with the ones by students Halema and Shukria .

An English ghazal uses couplets of long lines with a repeating word: the refrain. The refrain is used at the end of the lines. The first couplet uses the refrain twice, once at the end of each line.

The word Halema chose was ‘wings’. You can use a pair of words or a phrase though – Shukria chose ‘circle home’.

The second couplet uses the word once, at the end of the second line.

Same with the third, fourth, fifth – up to 12 couplets.

The last couplet ‘signs off’ with the poet’s name. Shukria’s name means ‘thank you’ and she has cleverly used it twice to have both meanings.

This might be a good time to look at the contemporary ghazal Jamaican British and WWE – they are longer and they each break some ghazal rules, but they show how alive the form is.

You can hear Fatimah Asghar read WWE here.

You can see Raymond Antrobus read Jamaican British here.

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