Monday, September 14, 2009

A Poem A Day #15

After a couple days off, I'd like to kickstart the column again by kind of ignoring my idea to do short poems on Mondays, and use one of my own instead, because I'm still tired from this weekend and don't feel like hunting through my books and writing much right now.

It's best not to talk too much about interpreting one's own poems. If the poem needs explanation to the reader, then it probably needs revision as well. The reader only has what is on the page, and the reader must interpret it without me. Once it's written, it's on its own and should explain or not explain what it will.

However, a brief note on the form of this poem is in order, I think. The ghazal (pronounced "guzzle") is an old form from the middle-east and Mediterranean region. It was a pretty common form of verse-play in Persian society, and is now found occasionally in Arabic poetry. The basic tenets of the form are that (1) it is syllabic verse, each line containing the same number, determined by the poet; (2) it is a chain of couplets, each one independent of the rest, the number determined by the poet; and (3) each couplet ends with the same word or phrase. I have ignored the rule against enjambment-- each of the couplets below is not independent of the others. I have also ignored the custom of the poet referencing himself by name in the last stanza. With those caveats, here is my short westernized ghazal. A "lyric ghazal" might be an appropriate label.


I don't think it's ever been touched.
Instead it sits, redly waiting.

Perhaps one day it was set off
by some bored undergrad, waiting

for the bell, eyes ringing in their
sockets, before a nervous wait

in the trees near the parking lot.
Maybe. Or maybe it still waits

for that first red shrieking moment
when its arm is grasped from waiting

in the curling, blackening smoke,
and flashing in the dark, the weight

of its howling voice will press the
yellow air, warning: "do not wait."

- John Phillips

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