Sunday, January 22, 2012

Ghazal-Mazal By Linda Zisquit


By Linda Zisquit

Finishing Line Press

Georgetown, Kentucky

ISBN: 978-1-59924-914-8

28 Pages


Reviewed by Dennis Daly

Poet Linda Zisquit in her twenty-eight page chapbook, Ghazal-Mazal, stretches the usually strict and demanding poetic form of ghazal into a playful set of variations—etudes really—that highlight this kind of poem’s potential in the English language.

Ghazal is an Arabic word that traditionally describes a type of love poem written in Persian, Arabic, or Urdu. It is also used in Uzbek by the legendary fifteenth century poet, Alisher Navoiy. Most ghazals consist of between ten to thirty lines combined in couplets. The first two lines end in the same word or phrase and there is a penultimate rhyme before that word or phrase. This end refrain is then repeated in the second line of each couplet. The couplets exit almost independently in the purer versions. And finally the last couplet is a signature couplet bringing the poem’s authorship in some fashion to the foreground.

In Ghazal: Routine Zisquit both intellectualizes the concept of routine and orders up some stunning images which brings it home. Like most young lovers she rebels against routine. She says,

…I scoffed routine

and while it was offered each stark morning

as I woke next to a graceful man of deep routine

I saw instead the gray offal of old snow

and the Buffalo dread embedded with routine.

Next the poet comes to an understanding of her own routines, which she has picked up from her mother,

my mother’s skin freckled at the public beach,

the way she shifted weight from leg to leg, a routine

I’ve taken on as I wait for the bathwater

to heat and in that movement mimic her routine.

Then the poem takes a surprising turn as the poet realizes the power for good that a routine possesses:

like a boat or barge on the water

that lifts mysteriously, moving rhythmically, in routine

and I, shot-sighted, dismissed its force

its holding power: the tension inherent in routine.

In Ghazal: Ache, Zisquit discusses the penultimate rhyme scheme that she doesn’t always use, and does it by using that rhyme scheme, albeit a bit flawed. She’s does this very well. Here’s a taste:

But the continuing line the couplet

with its penultimate rhyme, more ache

then comfort, especially when you break

the pattern at the start, core ache.

It doesn’t have to be the same each day

you can stare at the page, or go for ache.

Ghazal: Illicit Love matches form and reality with interesting consequences. The ghazel form itself becomes a metaphor,

The night I found you I found the form

for the poems already written! Illicit love

is meant for couplets disconnected

and a refrain at the end repeated: illicit love.

The poet speaks of form becoming essence,

… But illicit love

continued, or more accurately began

as vagrant habits ended. Illicit love

became the essence of my matter,

the single spark to light the fire …

And finally,

…illicit love’s

a filler that, once finished, reveals an empty vessel.

Now I search for subject without illicit love…

Ghazal: Havoc is an angry but deeply touching poem. It seems to be a love poem with mixed feelings about the sometimes- destructive nature of love. The unease with loss of control is telling,

All it takes is for you to appear and—havoc.

My heart, my house, nothing resumes its place, all havoc.

Why is it that your swagger, your foolish happiness

Is my undoing, and I cannot eat or sleep, havoc.

Another poem, which uses the ghazal form as a metaphor is Ghazal: Your Flaws. The poet argues through her poetic images that life’s flaws can be turned into virtues with a dose of awareness,

..your ghazals lack penultimate

rhymes, not to mention disjunctive couplets. For flaws

you are replete. You enjamb the lines as if the form

propelled you. Or unexacting, you respect your flaws.

The poet is literally playing with rhetoric through images and she is good at it.

Zisquit also includes seven non-ghazals in this collection. My favorite is Song for Robert Creeley because of this lovely image,

Early morning wetness

And this emptiness

Not of objects missing

Or someone gone—

As if a light rain

Cleared away dust

And the solemn desire

To embrace what’s at hand

Came shining…

This collection of Zisquit’s work may seem small, but the artistry herein speaks volumes.


  1. This is hard to write, even if it can be fun. I only have written one sestina and that was for an assignment.
    Ten years ago, after Zisquit had translated the feminist poet YOnah Wallach, I asked her to read for the the Women's Studies Research Center at Brandeis. She read, upon my request, a very sexy poem that was quite sacrilegious.
    I may yet try this form.

  2. This is a hard form to use, but i may try it yet.