February 27, 2014
Her earliest ghazals are in Leaflets, at the very end of the volume, which I must have looked at. But I’m reading them seriously only now — because of Agha Shahid Ali and Call Me Ishmael Tonight, his end-of-life ghazals.
Rich’s poems are in couplets, but they don’t seem to follow the rhyme-and-refrain pattern that Ali sets forth as the strict constraints of the genre. In fact, they are so loose and unstructured they could be anything, though they do seem to have the same onward momentum that ghazals have, ending and beginning in one and the same gesture. In the one dated 7/14/68 she writes: “Did you think I was talking about my life?/ I was trying to drive a tradition up against the wall./… For us the work undoes itself over and over:/ the grass grows back, the dust collects, the scar breaks open.”
I also like the fact these ghazals are in a volume that looks so haphazardly thrown together, coming a few pages after a poem dedicated to Frantz Fanon, mentioning his death (“born Martinique, 1925; dead Washington D.C. 1961”), but not dwelling on it, and instead going back to the beginning: “What I see best is the length/ of your fingers/ pressing the pencil/ into the barred page/ of the French child’s copybook/ with its Cartesian squares, its grilled/ trap of holy geometry/ where your night-sweats streamed out…”
The Indian Ocean and the Caribbean? Rich was linking the two back in 1969.