Monday’s Verse, Nov. 2, 2009

Greetings fellow adulators of Erato,

Today’s poem is sort of a history lesson, a formal exemplum, and a mystery all in one. I wanted to continue down the path of formal analysis and remembered our friend the ghazal, a strictly repetitive lyric arrangement of couplets made popular by the Persian, Urdu, and Turkish-speaking poets of the 13th century, although its roots stretch back to Arabic writers of the 6th century. The OED tells me that “ghazal” entered the English language in the late 18th century, while a dictionary of literary terms explains that the word comes from the Arabic for love-making. Meanwhile, the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics points out that the topic of a ghazal is traditionally erotic love, and that the author typically drops his own name somewhere near the end. The rhyme scheme of a ghazal is

aa ba ca da ea fa…

and many writers in English choose to use as the rhyme the same word, not just the same end sound (a less demanding version of the sestina we saw last week, perhaps). And ghazals are typically not too darn long, perfect reading for this forum.

But that’s not the half of it. Because this version by American poet Craig Arnold (1967-2009–his 42nd birthday would have been Nov. 16th) contains a sort of biography-in-miniature of the Spanish poet Federico  García Lorca (1898-1936), a hero as much for his associations with the avant-garde and anti-Fascists as for his fairly open homosexuality. It’s still not clear whether he was murdered for personal or political details, although I leave it to another reader (hint hint) to fill us in on the references Arnold makes here. Arnold, meanwhile, disappeared just this April while exploring a remote, active volcano on a Japanese island. He is assumed to have fallen to his death from a high trail.

Craig Arnold was educated at Yale and The University of Utah, and taught in Wyoming. He was also a member of the synth-pop band Iris, and known to be a mesmerizing performer of his own work, which he recited from memory, often clad in black pants and a black leather jacket. Appropriate, then, that his name is an anagram for “rad caroling.” Well I’ve gone on. As you read the poem, think about whether and how it fulfills the formal standards laid out in paragraph 1. What other formal choices is the writer making along the way? Does this poem read like a rigidly formal poem? Or, if it seems more “natural,” how does the writer achieve that effect? What, ultimately, is Arnold’s subject here? -ed.

GHAZAL FOR GARCIA LORCA

Still you came back knowing you must die in Granada,
intricate, tricky, disapproving, prying Granada.

One hand grips the collar, the other sounds the pocket.
They make no room for the shameless or the shy in Granada.

The fingers still point. The smiles always know.
Everything seemed to me about to cry in Granada.

The steep cobbled streets and cobblestones dewed by the cold,
late snow cradled in valleys against the sky in Granada.

The sketches stitched by your big sister into cushions
A bus I might have taken but didn’t try in Granada.

The guitar hot from the lathe, the leather ottoman,
all I wanted but had no room to buy in Granada.

Walking at night my sandals marked me American–
no one goes out in less than a coat and tie in Granada.

No one above contempt. I’ll never visit the caves.
I missed you every place and never knew why in Granada.

I felt at home, how home is hard with cruel people,
home even the gypsies leave, waving goodbye in Granada.

An absinthe glass, a slope clouded in rhododendron,
corroded-copper colored tile that caught my eye in Granada.

An Oh, an Ay, a consolation we could wander
hand in hand with, Garcia Lorca and I, in Granada.

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