A Halloween poem would make sense, but since when is this column required to make sense?
Last weekend a couple friends mentioned that they particularly liked “The Workingman’s Friend,” and my mind was blown. But it turned out it was the crisp, jaunty rhythms and rhymes they liked, and that got me to thinking: maybe I should be offering more formal verse. It’s not as if it doesn’t exist! But I do tend toward the contemporary Americans, and so there’s less of it in my reading sources.
So I thought about how to go about finding some, and the inspiration came, as usual, in booze. That is, I was reading last week’s NYTimes food section and enjoyed the article on martinis and not neglecting the “wet” ingredients of them. The author even had a cocktail of her own, which she calls the GHAZAL (reprinted at end of poem – cheers). Damned if it doesn’t sound good. Alas I haven’t kept gin in the house for years. Two years to be exact.
A ghazal, you will recall, is an ancient verse form, dating from 6th century Arabic verse. Ghazals have been written in Arabic, Pashto, Urdu, Persian, Bengali, Turkish, and Gujurati, and of course, later, in English. It is a classic type of lyric verse, and as such well-suited to our forum. It might be compared with the Petrarchan sonnet in terms of its formal stringency, and like the Petrarchan sonnet, its most popular theme is love–particularly erotic love. Which makes Paul Muldoon’s “The Little Black Book” a historically precise contemporary version. Now, I could say that I know the definition just like that, but instead I’lll just credit what I’ve cribbed from poets.org
:”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.”
The ghazal is hard to translate, and so today I’m going with an American version by a newish favorite of mine, William Matthews. Here he makes the trick perhaps even harder by using, homophonically at least, the same word to end all his stanzas, instead of the same rhyme.
Baudelaire: “The dead, the poor dead, have their bad hours.”
But the dead have no watches, no grief and no hours.
At first not smoking took all my time: I did it
a little by little and hour by hour.
Per diem. Pro bono. Cui bono? Pro rata.
But the poor use English. Off and on. By the hour.
“I’m sorry but we’ll have to stop now.” There tick but
fifty minutes in the psychoanalytic hour.
Vengeance is mine, yours, his or hers, ours, yours again
(you-all’s this time), and then (yikes!) theirs. I prefer ours.
Twenty minutes fleeing phantoms at full tilt and then
the cat coils herself like a quoit and sleeps for hours.
I created this drink, which is named after the ancient Persian poetic form, to pair with Middle Eastern snacks. Rosewater enhances the cucumber-and-rose infusion in Hendrick’s gin. A good measure of fresh lime juice brightens it up with acidity, and mint adds more flavor.
5 parts Hendrick’s gin
1 part freshly squeezed lime juice
1/2 part rosewater
1. Fill a mixing glass with ice and one mint leaf per serving.
2. Pour in the gin, lime juice and rosewater.
3. Stir for 30 seconds, strain into a chilled coupe and float mint leaves on top.