Science and Speculative Fiction Ghazals

Thanks to the pioneering efforts of Tom Brincks and the scifaiku group (which includes all they have spawned), we have haiku with science and speculative fiction elements and themes. What we’re seeing in Scifaikuest  (as well as other publications), are other traditional forms such as tanka, sijo, haibun and renku with SF/spec themes.  I think it’s only natural for “genre” poets to be inspired by traditional forms, and to then “make them their own.”

That said, have you heard about the ghazal?  Pronounced “ghuzzle”, this traditional Middle Eastern poetic “form” is receiving quite a bit of attention lately. I first learned about ghazals from members of the Pennine Poetry Works listserv.  Then, while at the Idyllwild Poetry Festival, I had a workshop with Richard Garcia, who brought in a few samples and discussed current commentary. 

Even though traditional ghazals deal with themes such as spiritual, romantic, and erotic love, I don’t think I need to tell you that mine had a SF/spec-theme . . . 

Given my renewed interest in the form, I have been studying it in more depth, but I’m definitely a beginner here. If you already know something about ghazals, then you will know that the poem I’ve included for illustrative purposes (and a bit of fun, hopefully) does not follow all of the guidelines graciously provided by the efforts of Agha Shahid Ali et al.  

I know you want to write one.  How can you resist?  

First of all, I would suggest a ghazal with a minimum of 5 stanzas.  They can be longer, but Richard Garcia suggested that this was a good length. (You also know about my fondness for odd numbers…). The title addresses the person to whom the ghazal is written, as with mine below: “A Ghazal for My Alien Love.”

The ghazal is formed of couplets that are supposed to stand alone. Doty et al have compared these couplets to those found in the Japanese renga. (Mine also has a progressive story line, which is a modification I made.) Each couplet is connected by a refrain, or “radif,” which is found at the end of both line one and two in the first couplet, then just at the end of the second line in succeeding couplets. (e.g., “journey to Io” in my poem below). I neglected to include an internal rhyme, which will no doubt prove to be an ongoing challenge!  Another aspect is the author’s “signature,” which is somehow worked into the last stanza, generally in the first line.  

A Ghazal for my Ionian Lover

“It’s time for me to leave.  Please come with me, journey to Io?”

“Earth holds nothing for me. I will join you, journey to Io.”

“I’ve searched through time and space—no one compares to you, my love.”

How many lovers? I wonder . . . as we journey to Io.

While in stasis, I dream of new adventures, my new home.

He wakes me, says, “it’s almost over, this journey to Io.”

“We will lie together beneath the light of many moons.”

Such nuptial feasts!  I imagine as we journey to Io.

Beneath the surface, within crystal caves, soothing hot springs.

We refrain from even touching on our journey to Io.

Then with Io’s gravitational pull, we lose our resolve.

Luscious buffet of limbs and lips as we journey to Io.

We no longer speak of Terra, our minds on other things–

Cosmic thrusts, energetic flares—such a journey to Io!

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