The ghazal is far and away my least favorite poetic form. First, it’s name is too insider for me. “It’s pronounced huh-zul,” I can almost hear someone intoning at a cocktail party. Even though it would be cooler if it were pronounced like the animal. Then, there are the requirements. The first and second lines must end with the same word, then every second line of each subsequent couplet must end with that very same word. Got it? If not, don’t fret; you never have to write one. Ever.
This Wednesday poem project has been nothing if not surprising. The latest bombshell comes from Sarah J. Sloat with her rousing poem, “Book of Hours Ghazal.” I probably would have skipped it except that the editors at Linebreak—Ash Bowen and Johnathon Williams, among others—really know what they’re doing. They consistently choose great poems, often from unknown or emerging writers. There are enough heavy hitters, too, to lure in new readers.
I’m not sure if there’s an easy word to choose as your ghazal anchor, but “slowly” seems like a particularly challenging choice. Right away, I can think of all sorts of cliché things that move slowly. Sloat sidesteps these possible minefields with aplomb, leaping gracefully (like an, err, antelope) to a new place with each stanza. She intones, “Blood, too, / is a heavy breather that serves its queen slowly.” And in the tumult of this poem, this declaration rings true.
When reading the same word over and over, it can almost disappear on the page. Yet, there’s something about the sentences that Sloat constructs that make us hear that “slowly” every time. We can’t get away from it. And maybe it’s this feeling of no possible escape that is the ghazal’s magic. It is insistent; it forces you to pay attention. And in the case of Sloat’s imagining of the form, that’s a good thing.