The Art of Writing

Write Your Own

Ghazals are often composed in a group – try it with yours.

Divide the group into 12 small groups or pairs. Give them a refrain by writing refrain words on small pieces of paper and handing them out: my country, poetry, silence, peace, wings, home, all work well.

You might like to work with the International group on a shared refrain – British, or Damascus – for example, in English and Arabic translation. or a use shared word.  Algebra, sugar, coffee, sofa, ghoul and cotton all all came straight into English from Arabic, while zero came via translation. Then you can produce a shared ghazal.

Assign the task of opening the ghazal – double refrain – and closing it – names – to a group of students you know are confident poets.

If a group gets stuck, give them a starting phrase: ‘I dreamed’ is a good one, or ‘ I saw’  or ‘Have you seen. Gvie the students no more than  15minutes, then read the ghazal round the class– it always sounds good! You can make a shared powerpoint if you like.

After they have contributed to a shared ghazal, you group may well be keen to write their own. Let them, and emphasise that they use any of the refrains and even lines in the examples or that they have written: this sort of sharing is traditional with ghazals.

Both these ghazals were written in English by young Afghan girls. Shukria was from the Hazara people and a Farsi speaker. Halema was a Pashto speaker. Both had mothers who sang and composed ghazals with their friends. Shukria and Halema had different religions and their people were traditionally at war. This didn’t prevent Shukria from mentoring Halema and the two girls becoming great friends.

Ghazal: Circle Home

We tear discs of naan, circles of home
dip them in the soup in our circle of home.

The silver metal soup bowl shines
on the cloth, the spoon circles home.

The way my grandmother ground the millstone,
her hand held easily, circling home.

And here are mud walls, rough and dusty- home
Spiralled in the jagged roads, the circle of home

The discs of my memory turn,
Shukria, shukria, I circle home.

Shukria Rezaei (17)

Ghazal: Wings

I saw that I had been transformed into a crow with wings
There were feathers black as death along my wings

Why, said crow-girl, why are my feathers black, colour of death?
Where are the white feathers that covered my wings?

I am flying high above my country, over the Hindu Kush
Mountains, over my village, on my wings.

I see the grey landscape, the grey towns, the green trees
near the mountains. I feel the dry wind under my wings.

I see the grave of my father, who I never knew,
I, Halema, on my black wings.

Halema Malak (14)

Jamaican British

(after Aarron Samuels)

Some people would deny that I’m Jamaican British.
Anglo nose. Hair straight. No way I can be Jamaican British.

They think I say I’m black when I say Jamaican British
but the boys at school made me choose: Jamaican, British?

Half-caste, half mule, house slave – Jamaican British.
Light skin, straight male, privileged – Jamaican British.

Eat callaloo, plantain, jerk chicken – I’m Jamaican.
British don’t know to how to serve our dishes; they enslaved us.

In school I fought a boy in the lunch hall – Jamaican.
at home, I told Dad, I hate dem, all dem Jamaicans – I’m British.

He laughed, said, you cannot love sugar and hate your sweetness,
took me straight to Jamaica – passport: British.

Cousins in Kingston called me Jah- English,
proud to have someone in their family – British

Plantation lineage World War service, how do I serve Jamaican British?
When knowing how to war is Jamaican British.

Raymond Antrobus

Raymond Antrobus is a Jamaican British poet who lives in London. You can hear him perform his poems, including this one,  on the internet, and he is also the author of the collection The Perseverance, where this poem is published.


Here’s your auntie, in her best gold-threaded shalwaar
kameez, made small by this land of american men.

Everyday she prays. Rolls attah & pounds the keema
at night watches the bodies of these glistening men.

Big and muscular, neck full of veins, bulging in the pen.
Her eyes kajaled & wide, glued to sweaty american men.

She smiles as guilty as a bride without blood, her love
of this new country, cold snow & naked american men.

“Stop living in a soap opera” yells her husband, fresh
from work, demanding his dinner: american. Men

take & take & yet you idolize them still, watch
your auntie as she builds her silent altar to them—

her knees fold on the rundown mattress, a prayer to WWE
Her tasbeeh & TV: the only things she puts before her husband.

She covers bruises & never lets us eat leftovers: a good wife.
It’s something in their nature: what america does to men.

They can’t touch anyone without teeth & spit
unless one strips the other of their human skin.

Even now, you don’t get it. But whenever it’s on you watch
them snarl like mad dogs in a cage—these american men.

Now that you’re older your auntie calls to say he hit
her again, that this didn’t happen before he became american.

You know its true & try to help, but what can you do?
You, little Fatimah, who still worships him

Fatimah Asghar

Fatimah Asghar is a Kashmiri/Pakistani/American poet. She is a popular performer and you can easily find her reading her poems on the internet.