Poem Spark Feb. 5-19 – the Ghazal

Greetings fellow poets!

This week’s poem spark is dedicated to Esther. Without her help, the Poem Spark section on Poets.org’s discussion forum would not have such a fabulous index, Poem Spark List, nor would it still be going strong, twice a month. She is also responsible for a plethora of new poem spark ideas in the thread, Poem Spark Ideas take two! Thank you Esther!


The ghazal is a lovely poetic form that focuses on love, longing, melancholy, spirituality, philosophical questions, and other similar topics. The use of repetition and rhyme make it suitable for song, both traditionally and today. To learn a bit more of the history of this type of poem, Poets.org’s page Poetic Form: Ghazal has an excellent essay about the form. Here’s an excerpt that explains how ghazals are written:

Poets.org wrote:
The ghazal is composed of a minimum of five couplets–and typically no more than fifteen–that are structurally, thematically, and emotionally autonomous. Each line of the poem must be of the same length, though meter is not imposed in English. The first couplet introduces a scheme, made up of a rhyme followed by a refrain. Subsequent couplets pick up the same scheme in the second line only, repeating the refrain and rhyming the second line with both lines of the first stanza. The final couplet usually includes the poet’s signature, referring to the author in the first or third person, and frequently including the poet’s own name or a derivation of its meaning.

Upon further research, I discovered an interview of Robert Bly in which he talks about the ghazal: An Interview with Robert Bly

He has some interesting things to say about the syllabic structure of the form and how it translates from Persian and Arabic to English. Bly’s ghazal, embedded in the transcript of the interview is worth reading. His discussion about the ghazal, beyond structure and into the meaning of this type of poem, is illuminating.

In the interview, Bly says: I’ve mentioned that the ghazal often makes a leap to a new subject matter with each new stanza; that is itself a form of wildness. This intrigues me: the idea that the constraints of this form allow a poet to explore topics that may be too difficult, too wild to grapple with in another way. The ghazal seems to provide the ability to leap from one idea to another, from stanza to stanza.

Here are some examples of ghazals, beginning with an essay that contains several in the text:

from Triplopia: The Ghazal: An Inevitable Unity by Jenny Burdge — look for John Hollander‘s “Ghazal on Ghazals” and Denise Duhamel‘s “Bra Ghazal.”

Agha Shahid Ali Even the Rain

Heather McHugh Ghazal of the Better-Unbegun

This week’s spark: write a ghazal. Be creative. Have fun!

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