Building Your Own
A major challenge to mastering ghazal formation is the repetition. Following a structure while making a poem feel natural is tricky. Careful selection of the refrain is key. Start by reading Agha Shahid Ali's Even the Rain:
What will suffice for a true-love knot? Even the rain?
But he has bought grief's lottery, bought even the rain.
"our glosses / wanting in this world" "Can you remember?"
Anyone! "when we thought / the poets taught" even the rain?
After we died--That was it!--God left us in the dark.
And as we forgot the dark, we forgot even the rain.
Drought was over. Where was I? Drinks were on the house.
For mixers, my love, you'd poured--what?--even the rain.
Of this pear-shaped orange's perfumed twist, I will say:
Extract Vermouth from the bergamot, even the rain.
How did the Enemy love you--with earth? air? and fire?
He held just one thing back till he got even: the rain.
This is God's site for a new house of executions?
You swear by the Bible, Despot, even the rain?
After the bones--those flowers--this was found in the urn:
The lost river, ashes from the ghat, even the rain.
What was I to prophesy if not the end of the world?
A salt pillar for the lonely lot, even the rain.
How the air raged, desperate, streaming the earth with flames--
to help burn down my house, Fire sought even the rain.
He would raze the mountains, he would level the waves,
he would, to smooth his epic plot, even the rain.
New York belongs at daybreak to only me, just me--
to make this claim Memory's brought even the rain.
They've found the knife that killed you, but whose prints are these?
No one has such small hands, Shahid, not even the rain.
Ali succeeds in creating independent stanzas. He creates a rhythm early in the poem, them breaks it with caesurae and quick-reading lines. While ending each stanza with “even the rain" he still structures his words to sound a little different each time.
Choosing how to begin your ghazal is fundamental. You must spend time finding a rhythm and refrain you want to keep. As Ali said: “Once a poet establishes the scheme... she or he becomes its slave. What results in the rest of the poem is the alluring tension of a slave trying to master the master."
As is always necessary, free-write. What do you need to express here? Love or loss? Anxiety or hope? Be more concrete than that. What image to you want to pass on? What story are you telling?
Fill a page of unfiltered, uncensored thought. Look back through and search for repetition. Find a piece with multiple meanings and uses. Ali's rain symbolizes purity, quenching of thirst, melancholy and cleansing. What do you find that is rich and lasting?