Wednesday 30 April 2014

the last buZZ

is for Zejel/Zajal

Coming back for the last letter to my on-going love for those Arabic forms which have been carried into other cultures.  Zajal is originally a verse form from pre-Islamic Arabia, which diffused all around the Mediterranean and reached its greatest heights in Moorish Spain, in al-Andalusia.  It has been assimilated into Spanish poetry as Zejel (Seh-hell), and remains part of traditional Arabic poetry recitals in North Africa, Lebanon and Palestine, where it is sung in the colloquial, often in the form of an improvised debate between two teams/poets (called zajjalin in Arabic - the practitioners of this form of folk poetry) and accompanied by percussionists. 

In both, there is a theme verse at the beginning (called matla in Arabic and cabeza in Spanish) which is either a rhymed couplet or a tercet.  The subsequent stanzas are quatrains.  The last line of each stanza must rhyme with the opening stanza, the other lines of the stanza must rhyme with each other.  So the rhyme scheme broadly works out to aa bbba ccca ddda ...

Nothing to press

The grape blushed early on the vine this year
But there was no one to press the fruit for, here.

She crushed other things underfoot and left
but one small light in her window I kept
burning all night neither flame nor man slept
the wax trembled as lashes tipped with tears.

The grape goes waste: its gift of ruby juice;
I can cork the wine but in honest truth
it’s the wine bearer who can pour it smooth,
decant it steady so that it streams clear.

Not every darkness flowers into a dawn
and not every sun can keep a man warm;
what use are shelters when the heart is torn?
what toast to raise against this atmosphere?

In the distance the piper pipes his tune;
the stars wink at the night jasmine’s perfume.
I wait to ride to salvation or doom,
but the messiah has no mount for me, I fear.

Happy to be able to end with an Arabic form! Of the vast amounts of languages that I DON'T know, Arabic has got to be my favourite. It is really the most charming, cutest tongue you’ll ever come across in the Ammeyya (colloquial) while the classical (Fusha) language is majestic and lyrical, even when what is being said is a simple greeting.

And happy too, to have made it all the way through! This month has seen some upheavals in life offline, and it feels like an achievement that I managed to keep all that compartmentalised, keep calm and carry on. Keeping calm, let me put it this way, is NOT my speciality.

Posted for the A-Z Challenge.

Tuesday 29 April 2014

trY and climb, but diagonallY

is for Ya-du

Again, turning towards the East for help.  Ya-du is a Burmese form. Like all eastern forms subject to very tight rules and regulations.

·        Not more than 3 stanzas
·        Each stanza of five lines
·        First four lines of four syllables each
·        Fifth line can have odd number of syllables – 5, 7, 9 or 11
·        Climbing rhyme words like so


where a and b signify the rhymes and

There also must be seasonal references, like the haiku.

Tough or what?  But here’s me trying, the rhyme words marked out in colour:

The spring dawns break
like mistaken
fall, take this hand
between and in
yours, stand with me, lean into the sparrow’s song.

It won’t be there
anywhere soon;
the flare of sun
on sea runs once
even shorter than a birdcall in the mist.

Posted for the A-Z Challenge.

Monday 28 April 2014

seX perpleX and gobsmaX

is for Xiaoshi

The Chinese, who else?  Only the Chinese, and perhaps the Mexicans, can come to the rescue when the most fearsome letter of all threatens that badge.  Go straight to them and don’t bother looking at other languages, certainly not English.  

I sometimes wonder why do the English alphabets even contain this scary but vestigial letter, when -cks and -z- are perfectly competent to carry out all its functions.  I guess sex spelt secks  just doesn't cut it, never the same oomph.  

Well, anytime X  gets to me with its limbs windmilling, I call the Chinese over for help, I am not taking that crossness. And the Chinese proffer me the following form, in their inimitable gentle-tinkly zen-cool Far Eastern way. Chinese poetry. And cuisine. The antidotes for all crossness.

Xiaoshi is a Chinese modern verse form, literally meaning “small poetry” (xiao – diminutive, tiny, small; shi – poetry, poem).  It combines within it unrelated, contrasting imagery, usually in a quatrain, presented in a minimalistic, clipped, almost disjointed language.

Here’s my attempt:

coffee smell like chandelier
hung in the room, and red-beige
leaf of early news bulletins;
the morning stands at the window.

Posted for the A-Z Challenge.

Saturday 26 April 2014

narroW start, but Wider by the end

is for Wedge verse

This is also known as rhopalic, a verse where each line has one more unit than the previous one, either a syllable or a word.  I suppose one could call it a shape poem too, using a form of wordplay.  

Here's my wedge verse

The moon
spews clouds like
smoke rings exhaled,
and I look up charmed.
A dribble of sauce spreads
meanwhile on a blank bread slice
but that  of  course  can’t  be  poetry. 

And that is something new learnt. If you know of any other forms that have names starting with W, do please leave that in the comments.

Posted for the A-Z Challenge.

Friday 25 April 2014

rejuVenated and liVely

is for Villanelle

This is another fixed form that is a favourite because of its musicality.  If ever a form emphasised the point that poetry should be declaimed/read out loud then villanelle is surely that fixed form.

Basically it consists of five tercets and one ending quatrain, so it is a 19 line poem.  It uses repetition and refrains for its structure and the rhyme scheme is a bi-rhyme that goes A1bA2 abA1 abA2 abA1 abA2 abA1A2, A1 and A2 being the repeated refrains.  Here’s my villanelle:

In the moment

The day is gone before I come awake
the phone alarm goes off at six o’clock;
dawn doesn’t happen at every day break.

The whirr of machines, the rubbish trucks’ brake
the early workers’ cycles bell the block;
the day is gone before I come awake.

The window curtains still remain opaque
the coffee gently bubbles steam and smoke;
dawn doesn’t happen at every day break.

Square meals are done; we each sit down and take
our usual fare in silence and small talk;
the day is gone before I come awake.

Doors open and shut, empty, the rooms ache
I turn the routine keys in routine locks;
dawn doesn’t happen at every day break.

From the past to this moment’s mistake
from six to ten to six in one fell stroke.
The day is gone before I come awake,
dawn doesn’t happen at every day break.

The form is a recent one and has made its way from the French into English only in the 19th century.  The original word comes from Italian for “country song” where it had no fixed form for a long time.  The strict bi-rhyme format was devised in the 19th century, but most modernists turned up their noses at it. It was revived and came into its own only in the 1930’s.  Many modern poets have written villanelles, such as Sylvia Plath and  Dylan Thomas. 

Posted for the A-Z Challenge.

Thursday 24 April 2014

camels dUly UndUlate

is for Urjuzah

That is an Arabic verse form, and it means couplets written in the rajaz meter.  The rajaz meter is lines written in two parts (or hemistich) of 12 syllables each with a break in between.  But we’re not done yet, there is a further twist. Each half-line of 12 syllables has three parts of 4 syllables each, with the third syllable unstressed and the other three stressed. 

Arabic and Persian poetry have many common features, and have fed into each other over centuries and influenced the poetic soups of the Indian subcontinent in many ways. Both languages had rigid rules about syllable counts and meters and feet which is a little different from contemporary poetry.

I have read that the rajaz is a meter that mimics the simple gait of camels across the deserts of Arabia, a bit fanciful, but hey, we are talking poetry here.  Fanciful goes.

Here’s my version of the Urjuzah:

Small moves

So many things I need to write, make clear or note
But you come in and I forget all pending jobs
I watch your face lit by the lamp, your shirtless throat
my pen just writes one crooked line, trails off and drops;

much of the time I make do fine with just your thought
much of the time the pens can stick to rules and daub
each verse and word correctly lined, amazed or not
what can be done if you come in? And so they stop.

A pulse point beats at my forehead, yours is a knot.
Exquisite breath, drawn in expelled in firefly strobe;
who’ll mark the one who sits and waits, carefully jots
all common things? No-one is keen to see them cope.

Caravans wait, outside the tents the loads are brought
and strapped on backs, hard trips and long, around the globe.
I too must move, though mine is small, loops on a spot
and poems to form on rhythms of winds, dust, dunes and slope.

Posted for the A-Z Challenge.

Wednesday 23 April 2014

a medieval and modern Three

is for Terza Rima

The Terza Rima is an Italian format devised first by Dante for his Divine Comedy in the late 13th century.  It is made up of tercets, or three-line stanzas where the end-word from the second line provides the rhyme for the subsequent stanza. 

It’s another example of interlocking, similar to the interlocked rubaiyat, but the unpaired lines in the stanzas make it even more lilting somehow than the rubai.  The purpose of all interlocking is to act as an aide-memoire, important in an age where poems were recited/performed rather than read quietly from books.  The clue to the next stanza was embedded in the second line of the first. 

My poem in Terza Rima:


No-one hears boatmen sing the bhatiyali
sitting by the riverside, its lilting, plaintive
cadence steeped in an ancient melancholy.

There are different boatmen where I now live
and anyways the boats are all motorised
no one has the time any more for pensive

and all the music is suitably tightened, revised
to fit into a flashier, frenzied, techno-edgy beat
to fit into players progressively resized

and it’s good, the tiny gadgets are neat
the music’s modern - less of nag and lilt
yearning’s no help to struggles and stumbles of feet

no use for lyrics that have ebbed and stilled
that trail like leaves on waves and beckon
travellers on journeys to dreams left unfulfilled

far safer to listen to the deep drum percussion
forget the folk tunes that yanked hearts awry
awash with desires for an unknown sun

a stranger moon, a different shade of sky
painted by boatmen who came sailing by.

Terza Rima can end with a couplet like above, or with a tercet, and the second line then links up to the very first stanza.  Dante chose to end each canto with a single line rhyming with the end word of the second line of the last tercet.  But Terza Rima was not just used in medieval times, poets like Robert Frost and Shelley have also used it.

Do I need to explain what Bhatiyali is? Perhaps I should.  It is a traditional folk song of Bengal sung by helmsmen/boatmen sailing out with the ebb-tide to the sea.  Bhati means ebb-tide in Bengali.

Posted for the A-Z Challenge.

Tuesday 22 April 2014

fourteen, Sweet and Superb

is for Sonnet

This is a well known and popular form, compelling and calling to poets across centuries.  Probably the sonnet is to Western poets what the ghazal is to Eastern ones. 

There are many variations, the two main being Petrarchan and Shakespearean.  Essentially a short verse form of 14 lines, in original Italian, sonnet means “little song”, it usually deals with themes of love and romance. 

The sonnet is divided into two parts – the first is descriptive and the second sums up the poets take on the theme introduced in the first part, sometimes with a sting of surprise in the tail.

The perfect sonnet, like the perfect ghazal, is subject to very rigid rules.  It must be written in iambic pentameter with specific rhyme schemes (abab cdcd efef gg for the Shakespearean, and abbaabba cdecde for the Petrarchan). There has to be a "turn", some kind of epiphany-ish quality to the summing up verse, starting off at the end of the 8th line in the traditional Petrarchan, and the couplet in Shakespearean and ending with a drumroll revelation.  All quite fiddly and finicky.

Nothing in life is perfect, and a bit of imperfection here and there is good for the soul, it’s okay not to stick to every rule every single time.  I like writing sonnets just as much I like ghazals and rubai, but I am not too fussed about metres, and all that iambic palaver just goes over my head.  Poetry is all about reinterpretations and having fun while you are at it. Doing it your way, in other words.

So here’s my sonnet my way:

A bit of light on the kitchen door

I hardly ever notice the kitchen door -
two turns of the key and then twist the knob
and into the garden on some mundane chore,
invisible exit’s part of the job;

a few flowers in season, some straggly herbs,
crushed mint underfoot, maybe pick a bunch;
what other purpose can this doorway serve
but a quick detour on the way to lunch?

the sun leans in, on a day in early spring
a bit of glass, shifts of dust, wrought-iron grill;
a lick of light makes it a beautiful thing!
this graphpaper glass, this dull dust, this doorsill!

a minute, and the light changes the door
never mind, I now know what doorways are for. 

Posted for the A-Z Challenge.

Monday 21 April 2014

fouR, paRed, spaRe and maRvellous

is for Rubai (yat)

The rubai is quite simply a quatrain, with the 1st, 2nd and 4th line containing the rhyme words, while the 3rd remains unrhymed.  This nifty bit of assymmetry is what makes it absolutely irresistible imho.  It's a bit like a truncated and pared down version of the ghazal, just the matla and maqta, without having to even bother with a radif and all.  

A rubai can be stand alone, or be part of a themed set (ooh, now why didn't I think of that before? so much easier than hunting for forms beginning with a fresh letter everyday!). Or they can be strung together as stanzas to form a single poem.  

The rules are easy to follow, and easygoing enough to let anybody say what they want without hemming them in with hemistich sizes or sticking to any specific syllable counts and such. Here is my stand alone rubai:

Where are the shells falling today?

I haven’t baked the bread, I haven’t got the goblet 
my hair’s still undone, the midday inarticulate; 
A plume of smoke has bloomed on the distant horizon 
maybe it’s you, maybe it’s someone I’ve never met.

A long time ago I used to be a market researcher in the Gulf (I am still one, I find market research sticks for life, but I am no longer in the same place) and all the Arabic speakers who ever responded to my questionnaires there had “writing verses” down as a hobby in their profiles.  No wonder, because the rubai is originally an Arabic form, taken many centuries ago to Persia with the Islamic conquest.  The Arabs personify everypoet, I think.  Their everyday language itself is lyrical, and in a way that's rather similar to Bengali!  

I have never had the chance of looking at questionnaires filled by Iranians, the native speakers of Farsi, but I am pretty sure that “writing poetry” would be a leisure activity with them too. Probably even bigger time than Arabs. 

The most famous rubaiyat writers/poets are Rumi, Hafiz and Khayyam, all native Persian speakers.  The greatest, most moving expressions of love, faith, and spirituality captured in four exquisite and exquisitely short lines.

Posted for the A-Z Challenge.

Sunday 20 April 2014

Write...Edit...Publish...April 2014 : April Fools

Hello  WEP-ers,

Hope your spring/season is coming along nicely, mine is having somewhat of an identity crisis, one day it's cool enough to wear a wrap and the next it's summer already, but otherwise all is good and busy.  

Saturday 19 April 2014

did you Quake thinking of this post? of course not! Quite, me neither!

is for Quintain

Quintain poetry is any poetic form with a five line stanza.  So a limerick is a quintain.  I write a lot in fivers though not limericks, here’s a quintain based poem for this challenge:

I was never quite sure where it mattered,
if it was okay for the skin of my face
to look smooth and quite nonchalant
when its other side was constantly puckered,
clenched and convulsed in amazement.

Only a half-grain of this vast world
blew into my eyes from somewhere.
And I took it out, and just imagine!
It too had the same smoothness of skin
and the same uneven, awestruck innards!

Now that's turned out much easier than anticipated. Illustrates some moral about something, fear? reality? problems? whatever; you know what I mean. Always easier when faced fair and square.

Posted for the A-Z Challenge.