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.

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?


About cmwriter

I'm a writer ... of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. I blog about writing, short stories, poetry, books, plays, and thoughts on life. Love reading and travel and being with friends!
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12 Responses to Meeting Poetry … Again

  1. judithfabris says:

    Carol- you have a talent that is beyond measure.  Your words are wonderful!!!! And a joy to read.  Thank you for sharing your soul.  Love, Judy

    • cmwriter says:

      Thank you, Judy. So much happened in that class in just three hours! And with someone else’s secret, maybe true … maybe not. A wonderful experience.

    • From the time I was a child, I used to write poetry all the time. I wrote a lot while my mother was dying and right after her death 18 years ago. I haven’t been able to write any since.

      • cmwriter says:

        Hi Cyndy – Perhaps you can find a workshop in your area. It might entice the muse, if you’re ready to have her. This workshop was only three hours but they were powerful hours.

  2. cmwriter says:

    Anthony Turi – Help! I’m unable to find a place on your site to comment or “like” your blog.

  3. I took a creative writing module Carol, I just wish I was a lot better at understanding academic requirements of meeting assignment questions, hopefully by the end of the year I’ll have got my head around it :). beautiful poetry 🙂

    • cmwriter says:

      Charlotte – I have no doubt you’ll be meeting your requirements quite handily and creatively. I just came from a writing class on the personal essay. An essay of mine with emphasis on setting will be workshopped this coming Monday along with one other writer’s. We’ll see how well my work stands up under scrutiny by my fellow writers! Thank you for stopping by. And thank you, always, for posting your performances.

  4. SusanB says:

    Your poem was super duper Carol. In answer to your question about what’s ignited my interest in learning, I’ll be saying it’s you sweet Carol. I’m gonna research ghazal.

  5. cmwriter says:

    Charlotte Hoather – The workshopping of the story was very useful. Good critiques and suggestions. Instructor offered a unique structural idea I am incorporating.

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