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Old 03-22-2014, 06:56 AM View Post #1 (Link) AoP 2: Aimee Nezhukumatathil, the art of disconnection in "Red Ghazal"
Isis (Offline)
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Aimee Nezhukumatathil, the art of disconnection through form in "Red Ghazal"

Aimee Nezhukumatathil is a poet after my own heart. She teaches creative writing and environmental literature (!) at SUNY Fredonia, and she's working on a collection of nature essays and of poems. The poem we're going to discuss, "Red Ghazal", is from her first collection, Miracle Fruit (2003). She's published two others since: At the Drive-in Volcano (2007) and Lucky Fish (2011).

Her work often explores the natural world, things she's read about or studied, and her family's history and heritage. She was born in Chicago; her mother is Filipina and her father is from South India. Many of her poems explore this side of her life without employing form, but she has also used forms, like the ghazal, that hail from the same places her parents do.

The Ghazal

I don't think I can explain the form of the Ghazal better than the good people who write for Poets.org. Check out their description below:

Originally Posted by Poets.org
The ghazal is composed of a minimum of five couplets—and typically no more than fifteen—that are structurally, thematically, and emotionally autonomous. Each line of the poem must be of the same length, though meter is not imposed in English. The first couplet introduces a scheme, made up of a rhyme followed by a refrain. Subsequent couplets pick up the same scheme in the second line only, repeating the refrain and rhyming the second line with both lines of the first stanza. The final couplet usually includes the poet's signature, referring to the author in the first or third person, and frequently including the poet's own name or a derivation of its meaning.
You can read the entire article on ghazals here.

One thing the Poets.org article focuses on is that translating ghazals from Persian, Urdu, or Arabic into English is really difficult. Most translations that are considered good or faithful to the original dispense with the rhyme scheme and the exact length of the lines, and go for a literal approach where possible. This means that when reading "traditional" ghazals there often doesn't appear to be rhyme … this happens because though the poem rhymed in the original language, the translator has not bent the poem around backwards to preserve that rhyme for us. I prefer this approach to translation - I'd rather get as close as possible to the sense of a translated poem than the sound, which is so far gone anyway once we move between languages as different as Persian and English.

What the Poets.org article doesn't mention right away in the description of the form is how loosely it's often interpreted by contemporary poets writing in English. Some ghazals originally written in English rhyme; some don't. Some utilize half-rhyme. Some rhyme between stanzas. Some rhyme within them as well. Some change and mutate the refrain word at the end so that it always connects back, but isn't always the same. Some include the reference to the author in the last couplet, and some do not. There are variations on how separate the couplets are in feeling or in syntax.

One of the main descriptions of ghazals is that each couplet/stanza should be "as stones on a necklace" (as Agha Shahid Ali described) or like beads on a string. Each should be connected, but separate. Sometimes each line of the poem is it's own sentence (or multiple short sentences). Sometimes each couplet is its own sentence. Ghazals often string together images and ideas that inform each other, but which do not create a linear narrative. To some degree, each couplet is its own separate entity. Some people describe them as separate poems within poems. Jumps between couplets can create juxtaposition, contrast, expansiveness. We'll talk about this in more detail when looking at "Red Ghazal" by Aimee Nez.

A brief history of the ghazal

Forms similar to the ghazal originated in 6th century Arabic verse. Similar forms spread to Persia (what we now know as Iran, basically) and South Asia and were refined into the ghazal as we know it in the 12th century. Ghazals originally focused on love, especially illicit love, as well as mysticism. Many ghazal poets, such as Rumi and Hafiz, were interested in or practiced Sufism, a branch of Islam. Famous, past writers of ghazals mentioned in most histories were from Persia, northern India, and Bengal. Some German writers became interested in ghazals during the 18th and 19th centuries, and in the 20th century Indian-American writers (such as Agha Shahid Ali) and others popularized the ghazal in English.

(Note: I've gleaned this history from various descriptions online and -gasp- from Wikipedia, so if you know more and want to chime in, please do! Also please help me out and let me know if there's an error in the above. My understanding of the history of South and Central Asia is lacking).

Examples of ghazals:
Spoiler:


Rumi - 2219, "I'm the slave of the Moon; talk of nothing but moon."
Source: you can find TONS of translated poems by Rumi here

Spoiler:
I’m the slave of the Moon; talk of nothing but moon.
Or brightness and sweetness. Other than that, say nothing.

Don’t tell of suffering, talk of nothing but blessings.
If you know nothing about them, no matter. Say nothing.

Last night I went wild. Love saw me and said:
I’m here. Don’t shout, don’t rip your shirt, say nothing.

I said: O Love, what I fear is something else.
There’s nothing there. Say nothing.

I’ll whisper secret words in your ears. Just nod yes.
Except for that nod of your head, say nothing.

A moon pure as spirit rose on the heart’s pathway.
What a joy, to travel the way of the heart. Say nothing.

I said: O Heart, what is this moon? Heart beckoned:
For now, it’s not for you to know. Say nothing.

I said: Is this face angel or human?
Neither angel nor human. It is other, say nothing.

I said: What’s this? I’ll lose my mind if you don’t tell me.
It said: Then lose your mind, and stay that way. Say nothing.

You who sit in this house filled with images and illusions,
get up, walk out the door. Go, and say nothing.

I said: O Heart, tell me kindly: Isn’t this about God?
It said: Yes it is, but kindly say nothing.



Hafiz - Separation (translated by Paul Smith)
source

Spoiler:
May none be shattered like me by the woes of separation;
My life has passed by wasted by the throes of separation.

Exited stranger, lover, heartsick beggar, mind bewildered;
I've shouldered brunt of Fortune and blows of separation.

If ever separation should fall into my hand I will kill it;
With tears, in blood, I will pay all the dues of separation.

Where to go, what to do, who to tell my heart's state to?
Who gives justice, who pays out, for those of separation?

From the pain of separation not a moment's peace is mine;
For the sake of God, be just, give the dues of separation.

By separation from Your Presence I'll make separation sick,
Until the heart's blood flows from the eyes of separation.

From where am I and from where are separation and grief?
Seems my mother bore me for grief that grows of separation.

Therefore, at day and at night, branded by love, like Hafiz,
With nightingales of dawn, I cry songs, woes of separation.


Mizra Asadulla Khan Ghalib - "No, I wasn't meant to love and be loved"
(translated by Vijay Seshadri)
Source
Spoiler:
No, I wasn’t meant to love and be loved.
If I’d lived longer, I would have waited longer.

Knowing you are faithless keeps me alive and hungry.
Knowing you faithful would kill me with joy.

Delicate are you, and your vows are delicate, too,
so easily do they break.

You are a laconic marksman. You leave me
not dead but perpetually dying.

I want my friends to heal me, succor me.
Instead, I get analysis.

Conflagrations that would make stones drip blood
are campfires compared to my anguish.

Two-headed, inescapable anguish!—
Love’s anguish or the anguish of time.

Another dark, severing, incommunicable night.
Death would be fine, if I only died once.

I would have liked a solitary death,
not this lavish funeral, this grave anyone can visit.

You are mystical, Ghalib, and, also, you speak beautifully.
Are you a saint, or just drunk as usual?



Agha Shahid Ali - Even the rain
Source
Spoiler:
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.


Spoiler:
Pale hands I loved beside the Shalimar
—Laurence Hope


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.



Adrienne Rich - Late Ghazal
source
Spoiler:

Late Ghazal

Footsole to scalp alive facing the window’s black mirror
First rains of the winter morning’s smallest hour.

Go back to the ghazal then what will you do there?
Life always pulsed harder than the lines.

Do you remember the strands that ran from eye to eye?
The tongue that reached everywhere, speaking all the parts?

Everything there was cast in an image of desire.
The imagination’s cry is a sexual cry.

I took my body anyplace with me.
In the thickets of abstraction my skin ran with blood.

Life was always stronger . . . the critics couldn’t get it.
Memory says the music always ran ahead of the words.


Peter Cole - The Ghazal of What Hurt
source
Spoiler:
Pain froze you, for years—and fear—leaving scars.
But now, as though miraculously, it seems, here you are

walking easily across the ground, and into town
as though you were floating on air, which in part you are,

or riding a wave of what feels like the world's good will—
though helped along by something foreign and older than you are

and yet much younger too, inside you, and so palpable
an X-ray, you're sure, would show it, within the body you are,

not all that far beneath the skin, and even in
some bones. Making you wonder: Are you what you are—

with all that isn't actually you having flowed
through and settled in you, and made you what you are?

The pain was never replaced, nor was it quite erased.
It's memory now—so you know just how lucky you are.

You didn't always. Were you then? And where's the fear?
Inside your words, like an engine? The car you are?!

Face it, friend, you most exist when you're driven
away, or on—by forms and forces greater than you are.


Patricia Smith - Hip-Hop Ghazal
source
Spoiler:
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.



RED GHAZAL
Aimee Nezhukumatathil
Spoiler:
I’ve noticed after a few sips of tea, the tip of her tongue, thin and red
with heat, quickens when she describes her cuts and bruises—deep violets and red.

The little girl I baby-sit, hair orange and wild, sits splayed and upside down
on a couch, insists her giant book of dinosaurs is the only one she’ll ever read.

The night before I left him, I could not sleep, my eyes fixed on the freckles
of his shoulder, the glow of the clock, my chest heavy with dread.

Scientists say they’ll force a rabbit to a bird, a jellyfish with a snake, even
though the pairs clearly do not mix. Some things are not meant to be bred.

I almost forgot the weight of a man sitting beside me in bed sheets crumpled
around our waists, both of us with magazines, laughing at the thing he just read.

He was so charming—pointed out planets, ghost galaxies, an ellipsis
of ants on the wall. And when he kissed me goodnight, my neck reddened.

I’m terrible at cards. Friends huddle in for Euchre, Hearts—beg me to play
with them. When it’s obvious I can clearly win with a black card, I select a red.

I throw away my half-finished letters to him in my tiny pink wastebasket, but
my aim is no good. The floor is scattered with fire hazards, declarations unread.


Last time, we talked about the different parts of a poem and how they were woven together. The form couldn't have been more different: a single, huge block with no stanza breaks, using transitions to carry us from one set of ideas to the next. In this poem, each stanza is its own moment, memory, thought (for the most part). It seems to me like the poem gets more unified as it goes: it starts with individual moments that don’t seem connected, but the connections between some parts get more clear and explicit as the poem goes on. Still, it leaves enough space between a number of the ideas that I have to wonder how they are connected. Much of the connection comes from the form – the repetition and riffing on “red” at the end of every couplet. It seems like much of the connection between disparate couplets is in the form of a feeling, or a color, or a small image. Or maybe the connection is deeper?

On the first pass (which you’ve probably done already), I’d suggest just letting the poem do its thing while you read. When I read ghazals, I’m reading for feeling and atmosphere first. I’m willing to let the poem lead me all over the place if need be. I’ll go back to read more carefully once I get a rough sense of the story or idea that the poem is circling or homing in on, once I have an impression of the speaker. I think it’s easier to start spotting the connections or riffs in a ghazal once I have the sense of it: otherwise, I get bogged down. Try that way of reading out, and see what you think! If you read poems like this a different way, let us know – I think it would be interesting to discuss how we read poems like this, poems that can be understood multiple ways or approached from different directions.

Discussion

1. The traditional form of the ghazal consists of five to fifteen couplets (roughly). The two lines end with the same word, and then the second line of each couplet also ends with that word. Most are unrhymed save the echo of the last word of each couplet. Usually the last couplet contains the signature of the poet – some mention of their name, a self-reference, or a pun on their name or other identifying feature. Many traditional ghazals dealt with unattainable love or desire, or with God, or both. The most important feature of the form is the syntactic and sometimes narrative independence of each couplet, the way each couplet feels separated, like beads on a string. How does “Red Ghazal” fit into this form and tradition, and where does it vary? What effect does this have on how you read and understand the poem?

2. It seems like the connections between parts of the poem are clear and narrative, and others where the images and ideas feel very distinct. What do you think is the main drive or narrative of the poem? How do you think the more momentary parts of the poem are connected, and how do they inform the narrative?

3. There are a few interesting echoes and juxtapositions in this poem. The most obvious to me is the last word of each couplet, the many variations on “red”. What connection comes out of the different forms of “red” used at the end of each couplet? Is this connection logical, or intuitive for you? There’s another non-narrative thread that winds through the poem: the natural world and the study of it. The baby-sat girl reads about dinosaurs; the former lover talks about galaxies. How do these mesh, or contrast, with some of the more ‘human’ and clearly emotional threads of the poem?


Links/Citations

1. Aimee Nezhukumatathil's website.

2.Aimee Nezhukumatathil on poetry, research, and everyday speech.

3. History of the Ghazal. This is a very in-depth article about the history of the ghazal, including some details about well known poets in the tradition and examples of their work. If you're interested in history or in learning about Middle Eastern, Central Asian, or South Asian culture I recommend it.

4. The Poetry Foundation's learning guide for "Tonight" by Agha Shahid Ali. Also contains some history of the form, a brief bio of Agha Shahid Ali, plus an analysis/exploration of the poem.

5. Patricia Smith's contemplation of ghazals in her Harriet journal. I really like the more personal approach to form and tradition in this essay.
  
						Last edited by Isis; 03-22-2014 at 07:04 AM.
					
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Old 03-29-2014, 11:45 AM View Post #2 (Link)
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As far as I understand it, aren't Ghazals meant to be poems of unrequited love? I thought this poem fitted quite well into that, as the last two couplets implied that the speaker had misplayed her cards so lost her lover, although I misread "half finished letters" as a half finished deck the first time so that might have tainted my understanding of it. I also saw the signature of the poet as being "my aim" in the last line for Aimee?

However I think the poem differed from most Ghazals I've seen in that it had a lot of clearly separate themes, such as the little girl couplet, which were a lot more disconnected than I would have expecteed from a ghazal (Although my English teacher did say that the Ghazal we did in class wasn't in his opinion very good, so maybe my experience is just a bit faulty, however I got the idea from Rumi also that Ghazal couplets generally have a lot less of a subtle connection to each other and a lot more repetition of phrases.)

What I got from this poem was that the speaker left behind her first lover because she wanted to try new things and didn't want to read the same "book" all her life. However the next person she meets, although she likes him, is clearly not meant to be with her because they don't mix, and she maybe wants the old guy back but the people she wants to love her don't? I wasn't sure if the men she described were the same person or two separate identities and I didn't really get the first couplet.

Also, I figured the stuff about "red" was implying that she chose passion over the person that would make her happy? "When it’s obvious I can clearly win with a black card, I select a red." kinda implied to me that winning would be being happy and knowing where you were with the world, while red was excitement and stuff.

I dunno. Don't hate me for trying.
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Old 03-30-2014, 07:55 PM View Post #3 (Link)
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Originally Posted by Isis View Post
RED GHAZAL
Aimee Nezhukumatathil
Spoiler:
I’ve noticed after a few sips of tea, the tip of her tongue, thin and red
with heat, quickens when she describes her cuts and bruises—deep violets and red.

The little girl I baby-sit, hair orange and wild, sits splayed and upside down
on a couch, insists her giant book of dinosaurs is the only one she’ll ever read.

The night before I left him, I could not sleep, my eyes fixed on the freckles
of his shoulder, the glow of the clock, my chest heavy with dread.

Scientists say they’ll force a rabbit to a bird, a jellyfish with a snake, even
though the pairs clearly do not mix. Some things are not meant to be bred.

I almost forgot the weight of a man sitting beside me in bed sheets crumpled
around our waists, both of us with magazines, laughing at the thing he just read.

He was so charming—pointed out planets, ghost galaxies, an ellipsis
of ants on the wall. And when he kissed me goodnight, my neck reddened.

I’m terrible at cards. Friends huddle in for Euchre, Hearts—beg me to play
with them. When it’s obvious I can clearly win with a black card, I select a red.

I throw away my half-finished letters to him in my tiny pink wastebasket, but
my aim is no good. The floor is scattered with fire hazards, declarations unread.
I'm interested by all the different "reds"-- even in the first stanza, the red of her tongue is not the same as the red of her bruises. Orange hair, freckles (a dull red-brown to me), the glow of the clock. The bright red card or the "tiny pink wastebasket" (so feminine, secretarial) or, at the end, the fire.
Assuming that red is the colour of love, I suppose each relationship has its own red? The first two stanzas are clear and strong. The girl is orange, not purely red, and she is attached to her book of dinosaurs-- she won't read another, she won't become the passionate red, she won't stumble into the bruises of the first stanza.

I think the speaker wishes her relationship were so clearly defined. That she were independent, like the girl, or that she were the victim, as in the first stanza, so that her role was clear. Instead it is "the night before I left him", red eyes and tangles, all these different reds. It's up to her to act. Which relates, I think, to the card game towards the end. She has to choose the card. And even if it's clear which she should choose, when the choice comes down to her she picks the wrong one. Why? Does she know why? She prefers not to play, so that she doesn't have to choose. So that she doesn't have to question her choice?
The second line of the cards stanza is also pretty interesting. It's "obvious" I can "clearly" win. The overemphasize makes me waver. Is it obvious to her, or to everyone else? Is it obvious in the moment, or will she notice as soon as she's played? Is it obvious, but her logic has disconnected from her playing hand? I don't think that she decides to lose, or if she does, I don't think she knows why.

The poem ends on "unread" --> "unred"-- all this colour promised and not fulfilled. Passion not achieved, unrequited love as AJ mentioned of ghazals. I don't feel unrequited love for this man, but that she wishes she loved him. Or that she could stay although she didn't love him -- that she would choose the black card, win the charming man and a happy life. That it were as clear and easy as that. But it's red instead of black, it is never so clear.



dunno. Thanks AJ for bumping the thread! I want to explore the natural world in this poem, too, but I'm not sure what to say.
I'm writing pieces of a ghazal right now (it's going to be Tuesday's ordering of world, I think?) because of this. Trying to work on separating the stanzas, and especially on making them concrete. I think that's the most notable part of the ghazal for me. Each stanza is not just a bead on a string, an image, a story-- it's a concrete bead, image, story. It's a physical object.
But I left my notebook behind, I have to pick it up tonight. :,(
  
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Old 06-15-2014, 09:11 PM View Post #4 (Link)
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I've been meaning to come back to this discussion for months. So as a way of easing all of us back into Art Of posts (look for more later today or later this week), I thought I would belatedly try to revive the awesome discussion you both started.

Originally Posted by AdrenalinJunkie View Post
As far as I understand it, aren't Ghazals meant to be poems of unrequited love? I thought this poem fitted quite well into that, as the last two couplets implied that the speaker had misplayed her cards so lost her lover, although I misread "half finished letters" as a half finished deck the first time so that might have tainted my understanding of it. I also saw the signature of the poet as being "my aim" in the last line for Aimee?
Good catch on "my aim" in the last line! I didn't notice that at first, but I think it could for sure be read that way. And if that's what the poet intended I think it's a great example of a poet working in the spirit of the tradition and the form without being super literal, "hiding" her name at the end of the poem. I've never been personally able to get this to work as I wanted with a ghazal. Either it didn't fit at all or was too jammed in and obvious. I see this poem as one of unrequited love from the other side, maybe. My impression of the tradition is that the poet, usually a man, is expressing unrequited love for some woman. Here the poet is a woman getting read to leave her man and struggling with it; whatever love they had has apparently faded. It's a different kind of unrequited love. I feel like the cards thing could be just a way of characterizing the speaker. But maybe it's about the way she misplayed her cards both when getting into the relationship in the poem and when trying to get out of it.

Anyway, even though we're interpreting the poem differently in this regard, I really like that you pointed out the 'unrequited love' angle. I'd never thought about that before, and I feel like the poem puts a new twist on it. I like that.

I like you're reading of what the color of the cards might be saying though.

Originally Posted by AdrenalinJunkie View Post
However I think the poem differed from most Ghazals I've seen in that it had a lot of clearly separate themes, such as the little girl couplet, which were a lot more disconnected than I would have expecteed from a ghazal (Although my English teacher did say that the Ghazal we did in class wasn't in his opinion very good, so maybe my experience is just a bit faulty, however I got the idea from Rumi also that Ghazal couplets generally have a lot less of a subtle connection to each other and a lot more repetition of phrases.)

What I got from this poem was that the speaker left behind her first lover because she wanted to try new things and didn't want to read the same "book" all her life. However the next person she meets, although she likes him, is clearly not meant to be with her because they don't mix, and she maybe wants the old guy back but the people she wants to love her don't? I wasn't sure if the men she described were the same person or two separate identities and I didn't really get the first couplet.
I think those two points go together - because all of the connections between the parts of the poem are subtle, it can be hard to tease out the story. When I first read the poem, I saw the couplets about the man/lover as all about one person would between different thoughts and snippets from the speaker's life. Now I'm not so sure.

Also, I know it's been forever since you posted these thoughts, but I really appreciate you starting the discussion and digging into the poem! And now that you've done NaPo and been writing poetry a bit more I hope you'll look out for future Art of Poetry posts. I like talking poetry with you.


Originally Posted by lalodragon View Post
I'm interested by all the different "reds"-- even in the first stanza, the red of her tongue is not the same as the red of her bruises. Orange hair, freckles (a dull red-brown to me), the glow of the clock. The bright red card or the "tiny pink wastebasket" (so feminine, secretarial) or, at the end, the fire.
Assuming that red is the colour of love, I suppose each relationship has its own red? The first two stanzas are clear and strong. The girl is orange, not purely red, and she is attached to her book of dinosaurs-- she won't read another, she won't become the passionate red, she won't stumble into the bruises of the first stanza.
I don't have a lot to add to this, but I really like that you went into detail here and pointed these out.


Originally Posted by lalodragon View Post
dunno. Thanks AJ for bumping the thread! I want to explore the natural world in this poem, too, but I'm not sure what to say.
That's what struck me, rereading the poem after months. The way the moments of the natural world tied into the description of the relationship. Maybe I'm reading this in a different frame of mind because it's June and I'm sitting outside.

Take this combination of stanzas:

The night before I left him, I could not sleep, my eyes fixed on the freckles
of his shoulder, the glow of the clock, my chest heavy with dread.

Scientists say they’ll force a rabbit to a bird, a jellyfish with a snake, even
though the pairs clearly do not mix. Some things are not meant to be bred.
This felt like such a non-sequitur when I first read the poem. How do these things even go together? But now I'm seeing it as a comment on the relationship, as the obvious "not meant to be" nature of the speaker and the man she's left, or getting ready to leave. But maybe not obvious, just like the connection between the two stanzas, or the way we're supposed to question the obviousness of the black card choice towards the end of the poem.

And maybe that connection comes through a little bit in this stanza, though it's more about romantic natural imagery than things not fitting:
He was so charming—pointed out planets, ghost galaxies, an ellipsis
of ants on the wall. And when he kissed me goodnight, my neck reddened.
This is just storytelling on one level, but on another I think it points backwards to the "scientists" stanza. Maybe there's an undercurrent about the levels on which one can know something. You can know that pairs clearly don't mix, but try to make it happen anyway in the lab or in a relationship because of curiosity or the weirdness of the heart. You can know how to play a card game, logically, but play the game "wrong" for some reason: something else coming through besides knowledge of the rules. You can have something to say like at the end of the poem, but the person those things are addressed to might never know about them.

What do you guys think of this? I'm not sure if it's "right" or if it fits into anybody else's train of thoughts about the poem … but that's where I ended up today, somehow.


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Also, last night I started watching Taxi Driver, and Easy/Iris made me think of this poem, which might be interesting to discuss in conjunction with the beginning of Red Ghazal: Two Moths.
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