Companion Pieces

I began reading the book Lawrence in Arabia after hearing author Scott Anderson speak at a local book event. The book’s subtitle is War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East. As you probably figured, my motivation for reading was to try to have a better understanding of today’s Middle East and its problems.

UnknownAnderson’s approach is not to focus solely on Thomas Edward Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) and his role in the events of the time. He combines his story with that of Curt Pruffer, German spy, William Yale, American spy, and Aaron Aaronsohn, Israeli spy. Schemes, battles, betrayals, and events are explored and woven together as ignited by these men. The research done by the author is extensive.

As I read Anderson’ account of the Battle of Gallipoli – how itThe_Water_Diviner_poster came to pass and the after effects – the film The Water Diviner opened in theaters to mixed reviews. But because the three sons of the film’s protagonist Joshua Connor played by Russell Crowe were thought to all have died at the Battle of Gallipoli, I was in. The film takes you to that battlefield, into the local culture, and into military attitudes of the time. It depicts the strange happenstances of war. The film is based on the book The Water Diviner by Andrew Anastasios.

UnknownAlso coming into my hands during this time was a collection of short stories by Katey Schultz called Flashes of War. This collection focuses on today’s war in Iraq, Afghanistan, and surrounding area. Schultz keeps you close to her characters as they survive or recover or die, as they try to make sense of their world. She explores the lives and feelings of survivors on both sides of the war. I was touched by the humanity of it. In the book are three pieces covering seven pages. The stories have the following titles: “WIA,” “MIA,” and “KIA.” Very powerful.

As I read and tried to understand, making connections and drawing conclusions, I also realized war’s contribution to literature. Writers weave profound stories and works of research to understand events, feelings, beliefs. To give us heroes as we read and try to offer a modicum of understanding as to how man can keep doing inhumane acts to his fellow man.

With Lawrence in Arabia and Flashes of War, I read each book in short sessions. Lawrence because I needed to absorb the machinations of the times, the intrigue, the motives of the key players, and the then map of that part of the world. Flashes of War because the impact of each story hit an emotional place, drawing on empathy, sympathy, and sadness; drawing on resilience, coping, and surviving.

Unknown-1I haven’t read The Water Diviner, but plan to.

If you want to explore these companion pieces, I think you’ll find they dovetail together to add some understanding about a current part of our world.

A Positive Rejection? Say What?

After submitting several pieces of work to publications, I sometimes don’t know how to open my email. I mean, should I open it with a high sense of expectation or take my time – as in who jumps in line for a rejection notice? It seems either way, there’s a bit of excitement, as in rolling the dice in Vegas. I might be receiving an acceptance notification, but, then again, maybe not. Being a writer means, if you’re smart, you’ve taken the time to be fitted with a stylish rhinoceros skin. But still.

I found a call for submissions for pieces about Viet Nam on the Writer’s Relief website, an author submission service (http://client.writersrelief.com/writers-classifieds/anthology-calls-for-submissions.aspx). I submitted a short story called “Behind the Triple K” to the publication and waited. In a timely manner, I received this email:

Dear Carol,
Thank you for your submission.  After careful consideration, we have decided that “Behind the Triple K” isn’t quite right for us. However, we are interested in seeing more of your writing. Please keep us in mind as you consider future submissions.
Best,
The Editors.

abstract-portraitWell, not quite what I’d hoped for. I read it again. What a gentle letdown, and encouraging. But then I thought, now what? What do I do with this?

I mentioned the email in the personal essay class I recently blogged about. UC Riverside instructor Maggie Downs shared an interesting article: “Submit Like a Man; How Successful Writers Can Become More Successful,” by Kelli Russell Agodon. I really appreciated this revealing and informative read.

Turns out male writers who receive an email like the one above will submit work again right away. Female writers tend to wait and may or may not submit to the publication again at all. Here’s a small excerpt. According to Agodon’s article, a woman’s inner dialogue may go something like this and I quote:

“I don’t want to seem pushy, but I do want to get them my work. Maybe I should wait a few months so I don’t seem desperate or so I don’t irritate them by submitting so fast. Do they really want to see more work, or were they just being nice? I’m sure they want to see more work, but I should probably wait a few months, I wouldn’t want to be an imposition and it would be better manners and more respectful to wait a bit. Or should I? Yes, I’ll play it cool and wait a few months. I wouldn’t want to impose.”

As I said, my inner dialogue was simply, Now what? I felt neither pushy nor wussy. Here’s the moral to the tale: submit to the publication again, as the editors have indicated. Don’t wait.  They couldn’t be clearer.

The email above for my Viet Nam story “Behind the Triple K”  came from a journal which publishes four times a year. The call for work about Viet Nam was for a themed edition, something the editors publish periodically with a specific submission date.

However, they also accept rolling submissions, which means they take submissions all the time.

I’m not quite sure what to submit for a follow-up, but with rolling submissions I’ll be able to submit again right away. At the moment, I’m culling through my files for a piece of existing work that’s submission ready or almost.

I’m also taking another look at the Viet Nam story. Is the ending a little too dark? Just not to their taste? I’ll try another venue and submit elsewhere. Onward.

Writing, Wrinkles, and Scarves

Like most malls, our local Westfield version has several major anchor stores and a multitude of smaller shops. Kiosks camp in the corridors on each of the mall’s two levels. In these kiosks, you can have your teeth whitened, buy a blingy cell phone case, get a Wetzel’s Pretzel, have your picture taken by a professional photographer, purchase a miracle cosmetic. Sound familiar?

Each Monday morning for the past 10 weeks with two to go, I’ve taken the escalator by the food court down to the lower floor of the mall. The escalator lets its riders off next to Victoria’s Secret. A long hallway runs beside Victoria’s Secret and ends in double doors. Go through those doors and you’re in classrooms used by our local community college, College of the Desert. There’s a receptionist, three office cubicles, four classrooms. Who knew?

I didn’t until I took a class called Writing the Personal Essay, coordinated by PEN Center USA – through their PEN in the Community Residency Program, and the Palm Springs Writers Guild. The class is taught by Journalist/Freelance Writer/UC Riverside instructor Maggie Downs. For clarification, a personal essay is a short work about a personal experience. A memoir is book length about many experiences.

When writing a personal essay, you choose a significant life experience, write it, and explore it, asking yourself such questions as:

How did you feel during the experience?
What was your body doing?
What was your inner dialogue?
How did the experience help you reflect on your own life?
What revelations did you discover about yourself?
What discoveries did you make about the human condition?
What universals about mankind did you find?

images

Found this book in my bookcase. In the PEN class we study essays culled from current online or print publications such as The New Yorker, Orion Magazine,The Sun Magazine,The Believer, The Toast, The Butter.

I’m used to fiction writing and creating characters in stories. I’m used to theatre and creating characters on stage as an actor or director. I’m not used to writing and sharing an inner reflection in a public forum.

Guest speaker for one class was author Tod Goldberg who, when asked about this process of revealing, said a writer should only reveal what he’s willing to let go of because once it’s out there, it’s out there. Makes sense.

We’ve been writing essays and workshopping each other’s work. We’ve been learning techniques to access our inner dialogue and dissecting essays by prominent essay writers. I’ve compiled a thick notebook of these essays AKA our textbook.

Here are just a few of the essays we’ve read. “Now We are Five” by David Sedaris, “Botswana” by Todd Pitock, “The Fourth State of Matter” by Jo Ann Beard, “The Way Woman Laugh” by Dani Shapiro, and “Thanksgiving in Mongolia” by Ariel Levy. Some are edgier than others.

And after the two hour class, a few of us have lunch in the food court and then go on our ways. As I passed a kiosk on the second floor near the food court, a not unattractive young man waved a colorful plastic bag at me. I shook my head no. He waved it again, took a step toward me, an engaging smile on his face. I took the bag. Then he motioned me closer. He had something wonderful for my complexion. Oh, what the hell, I thought. Soon he was smoothing something on the wrinkles near my left eye. Next he waved a fan to help the concoction dry. Then he held a mirror in front of me so I could see the miraculous change, the before of the right eye area, and the after of the left. Sure enough, the wrinkles near my left eye were gone.

Miracle or not, I knew I had to escape before the real sales pitch began. I backed away, smiling , and thanked him. I was also thinking “allergy girl” here probably didn’t use the best judgment in allowing magic potions on the face, especially so near the eye. I was pretty sure a skin reaction was in my near future.

I continued on to See’s Candies for a sample and looked at the jewelry in several windows of the mall’s gazillion jewelry stores. Slowly I realized there was no itching, no watery eye, no irritation, no reaction. I put my hand on the area with the magic on it. Wow! No wonder the wrinkles were gone. The stuff had worked like a lightweight Spackling compound used to fill cracks in walls before you paint. Smooth and rigid. Was it going to crack off? It ultimately disappeared, absorbed into my skin, leaving the wrinkly lines very much back in place. So much for instant fixes.

I have this scarf I carry that is kind of like a two year old’s blankie. It goes everywhere with me. The scarf is black, gray, and white and rather long so it can be looped and draped around my neck or shoulders. Weather can be weird in the desert, and air conditioners are often set at levels to preserve meat.

I had the scarf draped on top of the big purse I carry. At some point, I realized I’d lost the scarf. Damn it. So I retraced my steps. Past the escalator that lets you off by Victoria’s Secret, past the kiosk with the Spackling compound, down the promenade toward See’s. Then I saw the scarf. It was draped over the railing where people stand and look down on the floor below. Some good Samaritan found it, draped it, and hoped for the best. Whoever you are, thank you.

Another Day of Cleaning the Bookcase

It was one of those days when I decided the overloaded bookcase was due for some cleaning. At times, this letting go of books thing is easy and at others, it’s like trying to cast off a friend. This particular day, after I scanned the fiction shelves and didn’t find anything discard worthy, I started on the nonfiction shelves. I soon found some books that definitely could go.

photo 1 (1)I removed an old college text, an unused cookbook, a book about golf, a book on Stalingrad, and then my hand hit on a book that had no title on the spine, only blue binding tape. There’s another one that can go, I thought.  When I removed it from the shelf, I found it was hand bound with a soiled gray tagboard cover. On the cover was a rectangular sticker with the title Great Business Men, Volume II by Elbert Hubbard. What the heck was this? Obviously, I had to take a look inside.

photo 2 (1)The title page had a distinctive look, the motifs reminding me of Frank Lloyd Wright. The book, copyrighted in 1909, was written by Elbert Hubbard. Listed in the index were these great businessmen: Peter Cooper, Andrew Carnegie, George Peabody, A. T. Stewart, H. H. Rogers, and James J. Hill. The only great businessman I recognized was Andrew Carnegie.

But, the name of the town was familiar. East Aurora. At one time my parents owned some acreage there. To help maintain the property, my dad bought a vintage tractor and mower. I remember driving that behemoth, mowing the flat meadow that bordered the road. I also remember the day my father cut a garter snake in half with a shovel in that same meadow. The image has never left me. Wish it would. Running through the property was a creek, the bed covered in rocks of all sizes. One day from the woods, I spotted two men in the creek bed loading stones into a wheelbarrow. I watched until one said to the other, “Let’s go get lunch.” As soon as they were out of sight, I ran from the trees and managed to tip the wheelbarrow on its side. Then I ran to tell my father. He had a thing about trespassing and stealing.

photo 5The Arts and Crafts look of the book couldn’t be missed. So I did some research. East Aurora was and is the home of The Roycrofters, an Arts and Crafts Community founded in 1895 by Elbert Hubbard. They crafted books on handmade paper in their bindery, furniture in their workshop, and leather and hammered copper pieces in their studios. They became a leading producer of Mission style products. The name is based on Samuel and Thomas Roycroft who crafted books in London from 1650 to 1690. The Arts and Crafts movement developed as a reaction against the industrial and mechanized Victorian Age, wanting to renew pride in simplicity, craftsmanship and design. It was in its heyday in the USA from about 1900 to 1916. I own one piece of Mission furniture. An umbrella/cane holder. I found it in a thrift store in Kansas City.

Elbert Hubbard was born in 1856 in Bloomington, Illinois, and died on board the Lusitania when it was torpedoed by the Germans off the coast of Ireland in 1915. For a time he worked for the Larkin Soap Company based in my hometown of Buffalo. Hubbard pioneered the use of premiums and “leave on trial” marketing. At some point he became involved in the Arts and Crafts Movement. In addition to founding The Roycrofters, he wrote a piece I’d heard of called “A Message to Garcia.” A colorful character, Hubbard is attributed this quote: Never explain – your friends do not need it and your enemies will not believe you anyway. Today tourists and Arts and Crafts Movement aficionados can tour the Roycrofters’ campus. Sadly, as a kid, I was so close, but never saw it.

1024px-RoycroftCampusWelcome

As you can see, after I took the book with the unmarked spine and gray tagboard cover into my hands and discovered what it was, I did a little research, a little reading. Before I knew it, there went a few hours and another day of “cleaning” the bookcase. Does this scenario resonate?

But I’m glad I took the time to investigate and didn’t just heave an old book into the donation bag. At some point, I realized it had belonged to my father, one quickly taken from a dusty box of books and slipped into our bookcase after his death.

You can find out more at http://www.pbs.org/wned/elbert-hubbard/   and http://www.baylor.edu/lib/poage/bullock/index.php?id=55461

For Writers and Readers of the Short Story: An Interview with Book Reviewer and Screenwriter Heidi Simmons

heidi1

Heidi Simmons

My first “meeting” with screenwriter, feature writer, and book reviewer Heidi Simmons occurred a few years ago while I was reading the Coachella Valley Weekly. I came across a book review  she wrote on a short story collection. As a short story writer, I was happy to see the genre being reviewed. That article was the first of a series of four reviews she wrote on short story collections. For the next three weeks, I made sure to pick up a copy of the CV Weekly. I then met her in person at a National League of American Pen Women Palm Springs meeting where, as the featured speaker, she discussed the crafts of writing and screenwriting. I was impressed by her energy, expertise, and commitment. We met again at the recent Desert Writers Expo.

And so we begin.

Please tell us a bit about what you do.

Screenwriting is my first love. Besides screenwriting, I am a feature writer and write a weekly Book Review column for the CV Weekly – Coachella Valley Weekly, an arts and entertainment paper in print and online.

I write web content and specialize in “professional persona” content. That is, I write for professionals in a first person narrative for public relations in electronic and print media forms.

I enjoyed and appreciated a series of four articles you wrote in July 2012 for CV Weekly called “Short Stories for Summer.” You reviewed these collections: Suddenly, A Knock on the Door by Etgar Keret, Among the Missing by Dan Choan, The Girl in the Flammable Skirt by Aimee Bender, and Working Backwards From the Worst Moment of My Life by Rob Roberge.

I’m curious. What is it that attracts you to be a reader of the short story genre in general?

The short story attracts me for many reasons. Mainly, I love a short story for what it can do in a short period of time. Whether the story is about a singular moment or a lifetime, it’s self-contained in fewer pages. Like a piece of music, a good short story is carefully orchestrated. Every sentence matters, every word counts for something. The intentions of the author are ever-present.

I also like that a short story does not necessarily require a traditional plot. A short story can be about a single idea. It can be a metaphor, or a confession. The possibilities are endless. It’s thrilling to think where a short story can take the reader. And the beauty is: it doesn’t have to be told in hundreds of pages.

Unknown

Unknown-1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unknown-3 Unknown-2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Something drew you to each of these collections, which leads to this. What was it? What do you look for when you review a short story collection?

As when I review any book, fiction or non-fiction, I look to be engaged and entertained. I crave a compelling narrative, short or long. I especially love new ideas, a fresh perspective and insight. I want a story to pop and sizzle, but I also like when a story slowly creeps up on me.

All of the above authors are fearless storytellers. They dig in and they never back down. Each goes all the way with an idea or character.

Keret and Bender use magical realism (a fantasy element) in several of their stories, which is fun to read, and ads a layer of metaphor or ambiguity. That kind of writing makes the reader consider what the story means and allows for multiple interpretations, which is exciting.

Your reviews focused on short story collections by one author. Would you say you prefer one author collections over anthology collections by a variety of authors? Please explain.

I like a collection from a single author because I think the read becomes greater than the sum of its parts. In a way, the best collections crescendo. Often, the stories start to inform a greater meaning. Which I love! I’m never sure if it’s intended by the author, but I like it. It’s not at all necessary that the stories or characters cross over, but I don’t mind when they do. What I really enjoy is to get a sense of the author’s voice.

I do like and have many short story anthologies, but I have not reviewed them. Perhaps I will. Collections are a great way to discover new writers. I like anthologies best when the content is around a subject or theme.

Who would you say is your favorite short story author, living or not? Why?

Flannery O’Conner, Raymond Carver, dead. Richard Ford, Rob Roberge, Lorrie Moore, alive. They all get the short story. What they do best is share a secret — they let the reader inside a private world. They introduce you to a place and people and then you’re on your own. Deal with it. They dare you to judge, to criticize and to evaluate the world they’ve let you into. There’s no agenda, they’re not out to change the world, these authors only want the reader to look at the story closely. Good short story authors peek under the skin of the human condition. I love it!

Do you have a favorite short story? What makes it stand out in your mind?

From the books above, I like Rob Roberge’s “Swiss Engineering” and “Working Backwards From the Worst Moment of My Life.” These stories are so rich in texture and emotional depth. But the reader won’t find anyone crying. Roberge nails an interior struggle without ever defining it. His characters are mostly unaware of why they do what they do. Perhaps that is where the story begins. His characters are not into self-evaluation. Self-deprecation, self-loathing, self-destruction maybe, but they’re not into self-analysis. The reader is left to decide and that’s what I love. I want to discover and understand the character based on the information, the clues on the page and between the lines.

Is there a memorable character from a short story that has stayed with you? Please elaborate.

The Mother, or Grandmother, in Flannery O’Conner’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” I don’t think she even has a name. The Mother is so uptight, controlling and passive aggressive. She essentially brings about a self-fulfilling prophecy and destroys her family. Even in the face of death, she can’t stop herself from being a prig. Yet, I feel for her. I ache for the sadness, the loss, her desperation and her poor judgment.

It’s fun discussing a character like the Mother because she’s complicated. What made her that way? What clues do we have from the writer that informs us about her condition? How is it that we know her so well? Maybe someone thinks she is not a prig? What can we glean from her grandchildren, son, daughter-in-law or the killers about who she is? This is what makes story-telling so incredible.

From a screenwriter’s point of view, what short story adaptations to film do you feel stand out?

All movies are short stories when you consider the time constraint. Movies work best for me when they are between 90 and 120 minutes.

Stephen King has had many short stories adapted to film. “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption” was a terrific adaptation. Also, King’s, “The Body” was made into “Stand by Me.” That’s an excellent adaptation. King is a very visual writer and he writes twists and surprises well, which make his short stories good for film adaptations.

Good movies start with good stories!

What does a screenwriter have to do that is different from a fiction/short story writer?

There is a technical requirement involved with screenwriting. That is, a specific page format must be followed. It’s the blueprint for filming the movie.

Screenwriting is a visual medium and at best it’s minimalist – like a haiku. You have to write what can be seen. The basic structural elements are location, action and dialogue.

In a short story or novel, the author can write interior thoughts or have an omniscient voice. That’s the antithesis of screenwriting. The screenplay must visually unfold through the actions of the characters .

I think a screenwriting course can be helpful to fiction and nonfiction writers to find the theme and better grasp the necessary beats or turning points that make a story compelling.

Is there anything else about you or any articles, interviews, projects, etc., you would like to share or tell us about?

I would love to see more authors do short story collections. I would like to see publishers embrace more short story collections.

Short story collections are certainly a way new writers move into getting a novel published. Which makes sense if novels are what you want to write. I’ve seen where authors later incorporated or expanded their short stories into their novels.

I believe some authors are more gifted at the short story and should be encouraged to stay in the genre rather than being forced to produce a novel. Perhaps because books are so expensive, publishers feel more pages or a bigger story justifies the price.

Writing short stories is very challenging. It takes work. Just because a story is short doesn’t mean it’s less powerful or doesn’t have significant impact or is easier to construct.

As for me, I write short stories and enjoy the process very much. It’s fun to try new voices and points of view. What I like best is when the writing surprises me in ways I never saw coming! Someday maybe I’ll publish them. Meanwhile, I’ll keep reading the exciting art form that is the short story.

Thank you, Heidi, for the great interview. And thank you from writers and readers of the short story for your love of the genre.

photo-14

Featured speaker Heidi Simmons at an NLAPW Palm Springs meeting.

 

Enjoying Things Creative …

While some hours, days, or even weeks can be absolute bummers (we’ve all been there), other periods of time overflow with activities and events we love to do. Like a perfect storm. Recently, several of mine clustered together within a few weeks time. Things like writing and book related events and art shows.

First was the Desert Writers Expo, sponsored by the Palm Springs Writers Guild and the Rancho Mirage Library. The one day event brings together 40 authors of short stories, novels, nonfiction, the culinary arts, and poetry. It’s an active and busy show. My husband, a chocolatier, does the event every year.

DesertWritersExpo

Assisting your best friend (and husband) at the Desert Writers Expo

Assisting my best friend (and husband) at the Desert Writers Expo

 Anthony's Chocolates On-the- Go, "Done My Way"

Tony with his book – Anthony’s Chocolates On-the- Go, “Done My Way”

Watercolorist Lynn Centeno

Watercolorist Lynn Centeno

Next was a Trunk Show featuring two local artists, watercolorist Lynn Centeno and jewelry designer Nettie Roberts. I found this watercolor called “Wild Horses” as soon as I walked into the event. It now hangs in our living room. What attracted me was the color, the power, and the energy. Plus the wonderful majesty of these animals.

"Wild Horses" by watercolorist Lynn Centeno

“Wild Horses” by Lynn Centeno

Each month The Palm Springs Writers Guild offers its 278 members an ongoing contest called the Monthly Writing Challenge. The challenge has a different emphasis with a different set of criteria each month. Periodically, I’m invited to read the winning story at the monthly meeting. Below, I’m reading “Spirit Point,” a tension filled flash fiction piece by writer Larry Lauritzen.

PSWG March 2015 Web6

February’s Challenge “The Pursuit Plot”

PSWG March 2015 Web15

The Winning Story

Photos courtesy of Cheryl McFadden

A twelve week class on writing the personal essay also started, taught by Author/Journalist Maggie Downs and sponsored by the Palm Springs Writers Guild.  The class goal is to have each writer produce a body of work which can then be further developed. One of the these writings will be workshopped and polished. There’s the possibility of a publication and a public reading at the conclusion of the class.

Author/Journalist Maggie Downs

Author/Journalist Maggie Downs

Then there was a show by glass artist Don Dietz. Couldn’t resist this bowl.

Art Glass

Art Glass

Glass Artist Don Dietz

Glass Artist Don Dietz

Slogging along on a draft

Lastly, I’m working on a draft of a new story.

Hope your days are filled with creative things that make you happy … in your artistic life and your daily living. Love to hear about them.

Meeting Poetry … Again

Poet Julie Paegle

Poet Julie Paegle

I love a class that ignites my learning gene. In January I did a post called “Hit the Restart Button on Learning” and mentioned I would be taking a poetry class. The class was taught by Professor Julie Paegle, director of the M.F.A. Program in Creative Writing at California State University San Bernardino. The class title? “Reversing Spells, Secrets Spilled, and The Line’s Surprise.”

As primarily a fiction writer, I liked her review of the basics and this comparison:

Poetry                                                    Prose
words                                                     words
lines … enjambed                                sentences
stanzas                                                  paragraphs
art of language                                   art of story

I liked these poetry guidelines:

1. the best words  (nouns, verbs, prepositions)
2. imagery  (language that appeals to the senses)
3. metaphor
4. simile
5. The poem should look and sound beautiful.

We explored the line break or turn, the spell a poem can cast, and tried our hand at writing. Paegle introduced us to the power of secrets. We each wrote down two secrets, one true and one not. She collected the papers and then passed them back to us, making sure we didn’t get our own. We then chose one secret to write about, using any form and a refrain. We didn’t know if the secret we chose was true or not. My class offering:

I Would Have Married My Cousin If He Hadn’t Been

From my soul I long
to tell him
I love him today
but I cannot.

His laughter
hugs the air around me
tickles me to speak
but I cannot.

In my thoughts
his strong arms hold me
I wish to be there always
but I cannot.

Poet Agha Shahid Ali

Poet Agha Ali Shahid

We learned about a form of poetry new  to me called a ghazal (pronounced ‘gezel). The poet Agha Shahid Ali writes in this form. A ghazal has a minimum of five couplets and a maximum of 15. The first couplet introduces a rhyme scheme and a refrain. The remaining couplets have the refrain in the second line only and keep the rhyme scheme. The poet often includes his/her own name in the last couplet. Ghazals are about love, loss, longing, the metaphysical.

“Tonight” by Agha Shahid Ali

Where are you now? Who lies beneath your spell tonight?
Whom else from rapture’s road will you expel tonight?

Those “Fabrics of Cashmere—” “to make Me beautiful—”
“Trinket”—to gem—“Me to adorn—How tell”—tonight?

I beg for haven: Prisons, let open your gates—
A refugee from Belief seeks a cell tonight.

God’s vintage loneliness has turned to vinegar—
All the archangels—their wings frozen—fell tonight.

Lord, cried out the idols, Don’t let us be broken;
Only we can convert the infidel tonight.

Mughal ceilings, let your mirrored convexities
multiply me at once under your spell tonight.

He’s freed some fire from ice in pity for Heaven.
He’s left open—for God—the doors of Hell tonight.

In the heart’s veined temple, all statues have been smashed.
No priest in saffron’s left to toll its knell tonight.

God, limit these punishments, there’s still Judgment Day—
I’m a mere sinner, I’m no infidel tonight.

Executioners near the woman at the window.
Damn you, Elijah, I’ll bless Jezebel tonight.

The hunt is over, and I hear the Call to Prayer
fade into that of the wounded gazelle tonight.

My rivals for your love—you’ve invited them all?
This is mere insult, this is no farewell tonight.

And I, Shahid, only am escaped to tell thee—
God sobs in my arms. Call me Ishmael tonight.

Here is a recording of “Tonight.” Enjoy the rhythm … the music. Quite beautiful.
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/learning/poem/182207

I then found this more “modern” ghazal.

Hip-Hop Ghazal

Gotta love us brown girls, munching on fat, swinging blue hips,
decked out in shells and splashes, Lawdie, bringing them woo hips.

As the jukebox teases, watch my sistas throat the heartbreak,
inhaling bassline, cracking backbone and singing thru hips.

Like something boneless, we glide silent, seeping ‘tween floorboards,
wrapping around the hims, and ooh wee, clinging like glue hips.

Engines grinding, rotating, smokin’, gotta pull back some.
Natural minds are lost at the mere sight of ringing true hips.

Gotta love us girls, just struttin’ down Manhattan streets
killing the menfolk with a dose of that stinging view. Hips.

Crying ’bout getting old—Patricia, you need to get up off
what God gave you. Say a prayer and start slinging. Cue hips.

— Patricia Smith, author of Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah

All in all, a great morning, a great class. What’s ignited your learning gene recently?

9e76e8c937e1ff91ca284fcfd4be3ab1