Poetry notes: Once more into the breach – on using Arud Bahr meter in English Ghazals and Ruba’i – Part 3

[ed. tightened up a few things 6/10..]
So, welcome back. I wander and meander, so let’s wander back, and eventually touch on the actual aim of these postings – exploring how to adopt the meters used in Ghazals, Ruba’iat, Qasidas, and all sorts of other wonderful “Oriental” forms of Persian, Hindi, Urdu, Turkish, and Arabic verse.

To explore these things, and see whether or not, and if so how, they can re-inspire us in our English poetry, just as Eastern forms actually once did, long ago. Since I’m fond of meandering we will meander to this, soon.

But first more wandering in the deserts of the real.

It’s funny – like, don’t you just hate it when you start to write something, and you find yourself on a roll, and then *pow* it gets deleted by mistake, leaving you forced to start again from scratch?

So, I started this piece again from scratch, and was forced to re-examine the whole thing.

Perhaps there is something providential in this, for us to reflect on. Like everything that comes to us, it may be a matter of perspective. Seeing the mercy inherent in the things that prick us takes maturity.

Lest anyone get the wrong idea, I’m not one of those pedantic formalists, decrying the e’er so ugly destruction of the e’er so noble classical Occidental, and in particular English, poetic tradition by bands of feckless, reckless, bohemian, “SWPL“, self-hating post-modernist barbarians.

After all, I do not worship shibboleths, or at least certainly not for their own sake.

I’m a traditionalist in some ways, nor is this out of simple sentiment, or mere reactionary stance. What I admire in tradition are real and essential things transmitted from a higher source and nature.

But I do not just worship things that seem to be hallowed by the past.  I neither worship, nor seek to destroy, sacred cows as an end in itself, and if I keep a sacred cow in my pasture, or if I slaughter the poor thing and make sausage out of it, in both cases this is but a means to an end I’ve chosen.

I do not worship forms, so let’s not, us together, worship form and let’s not worship meter. Rather, let us find in both form and meter things highly useful, things highly beautiful, and things highly interesting.

Since words have meaning, and one definition of verse from time immemorial has included meter, or at least some form of prosody (there is a subtle difference) throwing the baby with the bathwater out the alley window means throwing verse itself out, and simply renaming something that isn’t quite verse, as verse. Some people think this attitude is “limiting”

I wonder what’s wrong with limiting things, at times? Life, on this changing shifting world, is finite and short. What lies behind her veil  may be eternity, but what terms we spend here may either be hoarded like a miser, wasted and spent in frivolous pursuit of the non essential, or perhaps better than both, wisely spent and enjoyed on what matters. So finding what matters, and what is essential, at a given time requires limiting things. Filtering things out.

Among the Arabs and Persians the very concept of poetry itself was explicitly defined as speech with meter and rhyme (‘arud wa qafiyah) – others like the ancient Greeks may not have used rhyme, but they certainly cultivated meter. In fact almost all ancient peoples used a prosody of some sort that involved some sort of metrics (there are exceptions, I admit)

So I think that we should re-examine it, and it’s relation to verse, and poetry.

The word poetry, much like the word art, has all sorts of add on connotations to us, nowadays. Anything pretty, or sublime, is often called a sort of “poetry”, you have poetry in motion, programmers call elegant code poetry, I could say of a particularly elegant girl “she’s pure poetry”

Interesting, that we don’t creatively re-construe and reify the word “verse” as much. Perhaps this is because “poetry” sounds prettier than “verse” and it certainly almost alliterates with pretty.

To me Meter is important,  because of its immense power and beauty, and to throw it out without understanding it is to make a mistake. But so too, to worship it without understanding is a mistake.

T.S. Eliot once wrote that a poet’s duty was to “purify the language of the tribe” at best this is what we seek.

Contrary to delusions perpetuated by  some pseudo-occidental-philes [pseudo because do they really love the Occident? Or is it their love of an imagined construction of the occident, in their imaginings, their phantasm] Westerners have always been very open to artistic and cultural forms from other cultures, and much of Western high art is built using others forms as building blocks.

This was one of the strengths of Western societies after the High Middle Ages, the curiosity of a young culture coming out of barbarism growing into real civilization, and the willingness to examine the new, the exotic, and the foreign. The West only became a civilization by openness to the Orient, moving beyond the closed, the particular, the provincial.

When I say the West I exclude Greece and Rome, Western civilization may have been heir to the Hellenic civilization, and the Hellenes may have civilized the Westerners, but for most of Europe to claim the legacy of the Greeks and Romans as theirs is demonstrable plagerism. Why more Greeks and Italians do not press this home is beyond me. Western civilization grew out of the remains of a Europe molded by classical antiquity.

Every civilization is like this, at first, you inherit, or adopt, or plagiarize and steal, or are inspired by, and you make it your own unique and molded to your ethos.

And over time, pedantic and sentimental fools will misconstrue your experiments and make them into established canon, and the process repeats in which one generation’s rebels become another generations undisturbed canonical saints.

I believe that writers like Eliot, Pound, Joyce, and other modernists of their ilk were rebels. But not rebels for rebellion’s sake, they were seeking a greater freedom and ability to find and express truth. Yes they felt suffocated by the current artistic scene of their age, but unlike little Emo kids in high school slitting their wrists to “make a statement” they aimed at something heavy and deep. Making a statement isn’t an end in itself, it is a means to an end.

Previously, we looked at meter a little bit, and the idea of metre being a codification of rhythm in verse. I personally feel that good poetry, and good verse, must have rhythm. Otherwise, what is the point?

If we want to write pretty, interesting, ugly, or beguiling prose, we should write, respectively, beguiling, ugly, interesting, pr pretty prose – and call it prose.

There is more to poetry and verse than just rhythm, but it’s to be noted that most good free-verse is already so rhythmic that calling it free-verse is really just a stance, and statement made. It’s really just highly irregular verse. If it were true “free verse” it would basically be prose. Like a textbook. In which case our little conversation would be over.

But the Modernists, and even some post-modernist poets (many of whom are not just being silly for silly’s sake, but are actually trying to make a point, and I respect this) are right in pointing out the problems with traditional English prosody, or versification.

For one, English prosody was never truly traditional to begin with.
It’s always been contentious.

Alan Holder demonstrates this, strongly, in his “Rethinking meter: a new approach to the verse line” – professor Holder wrote this as a serious critique of the entire notion of English meter and prosody. It’s one of those books that the formalist in me wishes I could dislike.. but can’t, because frankly the guy throws a rock through a house made of glass.

English prosody, mainly since the 1500s, has basically been based on a convoluted set of abstractions taken from classical Greek and Roman poetry. The Romans appropriated the concept of the verse foot, the iamb, the trochee, the dactyl, hexameter, and pentameter, etc. from the Greeks.

However, just as their later heirs, the English, had to adapt a foreign system to their own dissimilar native language, so too the Romans had to clobber Greek ideas of prosody to fit their own language. The same thing happened when the Persians and Turks encountered Arabic prosody, they had to re-work the affair into their own native rhythms.

The result worked, in both cases, and well, some may say. Roman poets used the Greek system of prosody (as they understood and were able to adapt it) for centuries and its forms are still the bane of many a Latin student’s existence.

The English did the same, under a triple influence. Two they acknowledge, and one they keep as the poor malnourished step-daughter hidden up in the attic of history. Let’s deal with this poor waif first, for it’s high time that she be, at least, acknowledged.

It is a fact that Arabic verse powerfully affected European verse in general. It’s indirect influence hit English poetry both in the matter of rhyme – for ancient Celtic and Germanic peoples didn’t use end rhyme, though they did alliterate – which is a sort of front initial consonant rhyme, and the Celtic genius made significant use of assonance, a vowel rhyme sound – something that much old Irish and Welsh poetry is rich in. True Rhyme arrived to Christian Europe via the troubadours, who learned it from the Muslims of Andalusia.

Meter as well shares part of this heritage, English versification without a doubt owes most of it’s structure to Graeco-Roman antiquity. However there was an Arabic influence as well that pre-dated the borrowing of Hellenic structures.

The system of al-Arud with its Bahar of meters, 24 in all (give or take) is very similar to the Greek and Roman system of quantitative prosody, though in some ways it is far more complex. It works well in Arabic, and it worked well in Hebrew, when Spanish Jews adopted its use. Persian poets somehow, by some amazing feat of genius manages to fit its feet fittingly into their own poetry. Hindustani poets adapted the Persian modified system, as did the Turks. 

It is possible that both such quantitative systems could have been made to work for the Proto-Spanish Romance dialects of Andalusia, or Old French. After all they are based on Latin – Latin managed to adopt the system of the Greeks, with powerful effects. But for some reason known to posterity they didn’t. Perhaps this is because of the syllabic irregularity of the vernacular dialects in use – the Romance vernaculars from which Spanish and French evolved were an irregular mix of street Latin, and what little survived of Gaelic tongues, with a dose of Germanic Frankish and Visigothic.

But what the genius among early Western poets did was to take the notion of syllable counting. While the exact long and short sequences of Arud wasn’t implemented in a quantitative sense, and Spanish and French largely lack the sort of accent that would allow an accentual meter in their poetry (though Spanish is richer in accent than French, perhaps it could be pulled off in Spanish) simply counting syllables was more viable. So a poet adopted a line of 10, or 11 or 12 syllables.

This was the system that Italian sonnets used, when they were first developed in Sicily. Italian meter for sonnets tool 14 lines of 11 syllables each.

English prosodists took this idea, but married it to the native Strong Stress type of prosody. This is the native meter of Germanic poetry, a line, divided into two, with a certain number of stressed words, and an irrelevant number of unstressed ones. So the total number of syllables meant nothing to Old English poets, just the stresses. Some stresses were hyper-stressed through the use of alliteration. I’ll demonstrate this soon, to avoid confusion..

The line of verse itself is a Long Line, a distich – which is equivalent to the Arabic bayt, the Persian misrah, and the Urdu/Hindustani Sheer.

The two halves of the distich line are hemistiches, divided in the middle by a caesura, a pause. When written this pause is separated by a space. Readers of Arabic or Urdu poetry will sometimes see something similar.

What matters in this early English verse are lifts, basically beats.

The beats are created by stressed syllables. For the earliest Anglisc poets, each hemistich must have two strong stresses. So the whole line, the whole distich, has 4 strong beats

An example, in Beowulf:

Oft Scyld Scefing      sceaþena þreatum,

The only unstressed word here is Oft (often)
Scyld, Scefing, Sceathena all alliterate there is a front Rhyme

monegum mægþum      meodosetla ofteah,

Pretty easy to see. Line 11

gomban gyldan        þæt wæs god cyning

Here gomban gyldan all alliterate with god, clever poet cyning is articulated from the same place of the mouth as cyning so this is a subtle playing with the rhythm.

From another Old English poem, the battle of Maldon

Hige sceal þe heardra        heorte þe cenre,
mod sceal þe mare        þe ure mægen lytlað

Some more complex examples can be found in other German tongues, the cousins of the Anglish and Saxons, in frozen northern Thule, developed this art of alliterative accentual meter to greater heights than the English. The Norse had many separate meters based on this system, that included syllable counting. In some of this the caesura dividing old English poems seems missing, the lines themselves become very short. The alliteration scheme is far more complex than in Old English, and all of this is essential to their prosody.

An example, from Glymdrápa – a poem written and dedicated to Harald Fairhair

Gerði glamma ferðar
gný drótt jöru Þróttar
helkannanda hlenna
hlymræks of tröð glymja,

Gerthi and glamma alliterate, gny in the next line almost does, helkannanda helenna, and in the next line hlymraeks alliterate.

This, then, is the essence of the Barbarian poetry of Northern Europe. What the Middle English did was to marry this, with a syllabic counting obtained from the South. Chaucer was the first, I think, to definitively write in Iambic Pentameter in English, the poets immediately before his generation were doing something like this

This is an example from a poem by William Langland, somewhere between the 1360s and 1390s
A feir feld full of folk        fond I þer bitwene,
Of alle maner of men        þe mene and þe riche,
Worchinge and wandringe        as þe world askeþ.

Since the spelling is pretty close to modern English we won’t bother with a translation, the rough meaning should be pretty evident ( a fair field full of folk, found I there…  of all manner of men, it’s not too complex and we needn’t waste time. Just stare at it funny for 60 seconds and the meaning becomes clear)

You can see the monosyllabic nature of English at its root here. A bit of Romance French slips in, but this is mostly cleaned up, or simplified, Saxon.

Now this strong stress prosody is essentially an accentual meter, the Celts used something similar – though more highly developed than the Anglo Saxon and the Norse poets (though some Norse skaldic poetry comes close to the Celtic brilliance)

The common thought is that Chaucer and others like him just decided to borrow Greco-Latin poetic feet, chiefly the iamb.

Holder shows that this is not quite the case, other writers also have clarified this. If you look at older English Iambic pentameter a few things jump out. In many cases, it’s not really pentameter. E.g. in many cases there are not 5 equal beats in a 10 syllable line e.g. ./ ./ ./ ./ ./

sometimes you have ./ ./ ../ /. ./

or another variation.

Later day prosodists take various other Greek feet, like the trochee or the dactyl and say “see, this is what they were consciously doing.” Others do something silly like blatantly mispronouncing the line to make it scan as even iambic pentameter. What some later critics, Holder amongst them but there are others, do is to point out that something more complex is going on here.

You may have an even number of total syllables, but when the stresses, the beats, vary in their placement do you really think the poet was just sticking in an amphibrach or a trochee or a spondee, or perhaps was he doing something much more… subtle ?

Let’s leave on this note. But let’s get more interesting, real sure.

Like Ghazals, and Arud for real.

-to be continued

Tips from a Consultant on the edge

Things I’ve learned over the last 15 years of consulting in fields as diverse as Business IT, Network analysis,  Importing, and Product liquidation, from Universities, to Small Businesses, to mega corporations, to sketchy scrap metal and demo companies owned by Roma who walk around talking about vague ties to Russian Mafya (Roma = Gypsies – oh did I tell you how much I like Gypsies? They have the strangest and most funny stories, often about purchasing brides and strange strip club antics)

0. As a consultant you are expendable.

1. Corporate Procurement is your friend. Never tick off the folks in procurement, especially purchasers. If asked by a client or superior “how long before our order fulfillment, yada yada” simply respond (and bcc a friend in Procurement for kudos)

“Procurement replies to all inquires in the order in which they are received, since they handle requests on an Enterprise wide basis – including two continents 0- I cannot force them to reply quicker than they are humanly capable. I did emphasize the urgency of our request, they said there are only 250 requests in the queue before ours and are expediting matters.”

2. Office ladies ply you with doughnuts and candy. This is a sign of affection, some are very affectionate and attractive and are willing to ply you with even sweeter things, irrespective of their single status it is a bad idea to take such affection beyond the water cooler, just bask in their femininity, enjoy their pleasant chats and flirtation, and leave it at that. Never double dip thy pen in the company ink, no matter how pretty the ink is.

3.Corporate IT – also your friend, see remark one.

4. Purchase orders are binding contracts. Therefore respect them. Dig it? Legally so are offers, quotes are not feel free to use quotes as wallpaper or paper airplanes. Always read the fine print on Purchase Orders.

5. Any overseas supplier asking you for an “ICPO” – a dumb monkey. ICPO means irrevocable purchase order, legally Purchase Orders are binding on acceptance anyway. No one uses the term ICPO except a few confused Russian export salesmen, and hordes of confused brokers. If they ask you for an NCND and LOI then they aren’t suppliers, they are confused pseudo-Brokers and will waste your time.

6. FOB in the USA – it means something quite different than FOB everywhere else in the planet. We Americans are creative with our interpretation of “FOB” and “FOB Points” – however we are laughed at for the creative ways in which we interpret FOB. If you are ordering from a foreign supplier they use Incoterms, learn them, learn them better than your supplier that way you can make them feel like confused Muppets when you dictate logistical terms

7. Terms, sneak them in there. Because once your vendor accepts your Contract or PO they are bound by your silly terms. NO EXPLANATION NEEDED – but for giggles, consider this e.g.

“Disc: 3%
Terms Disc: 3% 15 days/net 30
Disc days due: 15
Requested for delivery: totally like tomorrow”

Disc means discount, they should be clever enough to catch this, espescially when your payment arrives 15 days later with exactly 3% chopped off the top.

If they are silly enough to accept your terms without thinking them over then you get your nifty discount if you pay in 15 days, assuming you already have terms? No you say? Yes, I say. Remember PO’s are binding – if they don’t check with corporate credit to see if you guys still have terms in good standing then, well, whatever.

8. Doughnuts will make you fat. So will cookies, and so will candy, and yes offices are chock full of them.
Intermittent fasting, coffee, long walks at lunchtime, and fish oil capsules, are  partial penance. Most of your physique is diet related, exercise plays a role in body composition, but if your physique is not quite what you want it to be, cut back on the sugar.

9. Financial controllers and accounting managers are your friends, don’t tick them off.

10. Corporate badges frequently get you discounts. At health clubs and sundry other places, if the corporation has the net-worth of the GDB of your average Eastern European country. Discounts are always good.
11. Nothing beats drinking black coffee, staring at the wall, and feeling mean. But you’ve gotta do real work. It’s a zen like state – drink the coffee, and assault your work, pounding out aggression, channel your obsession, feed it with coffee.


Poetry notes: tricky using Arud Bahr meter in English Ghazals and Ruba’i – Part 2

In the last century many modern poets rejected traditional tools of meter and line form, tools poets have used for thousands of years, because they found them limiting and enslaving. Modernism was about rejecting enslaving old authority and tradition, and creating new seemingly liberating art. But modernism itself because a canon and an enslaving authority of its own.

But there is something to the modern complaint, what I want is to re-claim traditional tools and devices because of their sheer power and beauty. That and their rigor. It takes intelligence and effort to use these tools well. Modernist free verse is often beautifully inspired, and brilliant.

But what did they throw away, to gain freedom? A freedom that now enslaves many poets and requires them to re-learn basic things to take their art to another level.

The chains of formal meter are less chains than a lover’s silk scarves, tied about the wrists and bedpost. It is not slavery, or if it is it is a pleasant one. In reaction to the past I think we often lose sight of this.

And this becomes a tragedy. There is a pleasure to well crafted formal verse with prosodic meter that can be felt in the body and mind. It’s not just intellectual.

Shopping in Kroger’s with Abu Abdullah Maghribi, he hit on part of the key : “Kamal, it’s about the heartbeat. Seriously, meter imitates the heartbeat”

Recite strongly metered poetry and there is an entraining of rhythm, of motion. English metered poetry does this crudely, the metered poetry in other languages like Greek, or Arabic, or Persian, or even Latin, does this in a more subtle way.

I’m also personally convinced that other body rhythms are involved, like brainwaves. The same rhythm that lulls a babe to sleep in a rocking basinet, is what sooths our excites, stimulates or quells, our hearts when we read or hear certain words.

My problem is that high modernist poets, and the post modernists that came after them, often essentially created poetry that was esoteric, obscure, and lacking in rhythm. They threw the baby and the bathwater out from a 15thfloor penthouse.

The problem is that by the Victorian era English poetry and prosody had become moribund under conventionalism. There are some modern formalists today who seek to react against this but much of their work has been trite.

There are, however, a few examples of modern neo-formalist poets who accomplish great things. One is A.E. Stallings who I truly think is one of the most talented formal English poets today. She manages to use meter and rhyme while maintaining the light conversational tone, even when dealing with mythic topics, that modern Western poetry often prizes. There are others.

William Carlos Williams, a high modernist, tried to find a uniquely American prosody. I don’t think he fully succeeded though his poetry is brilliant and often moving. He certainly did help re-mold American poetry in different directions.

Exotic foreign forms – Ghazals and Rubayyat:
Recently English language poets have been increasingly enchanted by the Ghazal, a poetry form innovated in Arabia but quickly transplanted to, and mastered by, Persian, Turkic, and Hindustani poets. The Ruba’i also has been with us for a couple of centuries.

Before exploring them, there is often some resistance to looking at foreign forms. As if our own native language forms are “not good enough” well the reality is that a massive amount of the English poetic tradition was inspired by, and borrowed from, outsiders.

True past traditionalists had nothing against this, in the past Westerners were able to look at art forms of other cultures and see their beauty as inspiring, some things fit Western tastes, other things didn’t – but what characterized the Occident during its rise a few short centuries ago was an openness to the outside world.

English poetry has always been invigorated by foreign poetic and literary forms, something excessively conservative pseudo-traditionalists often gloss over.

Indeed what allowed the British and French to rise as Imperial Civilizations – while much of Europe remained closed to other cultures as a backward barbaric and stagnant area – was a new found cultural openness to the outside, and curiosity.

When the Occident threw off some of the Church’s old strictures that kept it an inward looking and culturally barren feudal mass, and embraced some degree of “cultural miscegenation” the Occident ended up with neat things like soap, baths, popular garden parks, tea, coffee, rhyming poetry, multi-course meals, anti-skeptics, and other nifty things. What preceded Western advance was a change in attitudes towards the outside world, and openness to other civilizations that preceded the latter attitudes of hardened arrogance and self-sufficiency that characterized later stages of Occidental civilization and Empire building

And as they say, the Pride before the fall.

So it is a strength to be able to look at other artistic and poetic forms and benefit from them, taking what works in one’s culture and making it one’s own. Exploring new forms and other culture’s forms strengths native forms, this is a type of cultural hybrid vigor – done with the best of others, not the worst. This discernment and discrimination are needed.

What can be more British than the Sonnet? Yet the Sonnet as we know it is a corruption of an Italian form, and the high Italian Sonnet itself derives from a specifically Sicilian form that evolved in the Arabized milieu of Fredricki Sicily from the Spanish Arabic Zajal and Muwashshah.

These two Muslim forms, enthusiastically embraced by Spanish Jews and Christians also molded Troubadour verse in Occitan and Province and led to the development of numerous other lyric and ballad like forms.

Western Arab poets who developed the Muwashshah and Zajal were in turn influenced by Spanish Christian folk poets, and took certain basic forms as a rebellion against the Ode (Qasida) of High Classical Arabic, which really wasn’t well suited to a poetic conversation with common people, and also made lyrical love poetry difficult (though the Ghazal came to dominate this for Eastern Muslims).

Many traditional English forms were borrowed or improvised based on foreign inspiration – even in prosody where the accentual syllabic Iambic Pentameter metre was inspired by French counted syllables – combined with the traditional Teutonic prosody of four Strong Stress on a line – with a backward inspiration from Classical Greek quantitative meter. But, in turn, French syllabic poetry is an artifact from the Troubadours who used it to approximate Arabic metre as learned from (and the point of my wandering and tiptoeing around) Spanish Muslim and Jewish poets.

Quantitative prosody does not work very well at all in French, but simply counting out Syllables and intuitively finding a rhythm in it does. It works a little better in English and considerably better in Spanish and Italian, but still not well enough to be used on a systematic way.

So the compromise, was to take the Greek and Roman foot forms, the Iamb, Dactyl, Trochee, and so on, and use them but apply them to accent, based on the stress we give words. Read this paragraph out loud in a natural way and you will notice – clearly – levels of stress and accent, some words naturally fall from your lips and strong bright little pearls, clear and standing out – other words or syllables are muted, or eaten up partially. This is because English and German is naturally  iambic –

We have an intuitive understanding of when an utterance has too many or too few syllables.

The prosody of most modern European languages, especially Germanic ones, is quite different than the prosody of older Indo-European and Semitic languages. Accent plays a strong role in these languages and regular long syllables are not often to be found, often where there is accentual stress you will find a long syllable, but so too at times you won’t.

Arabic, Latin, Greek, and Persian poetry all use a quantitative meter based on Long and Short Syllable weights. The syllable weight is independent of the actual accent placed on the syllables.

French and English are somewhat incapable of this type of prosody, though the few experiments made with it have produced interesting and subtle effects. English long and short syllables are too unpredictably placed, and the mono-syllabic nature of the basic Saxon structure of Language, with the bi-or tri-syllabic nature of much of its romance borrowings makes the longer foot lengths of some quantitative prosodies difficult.

So we come back to the Ghazal and Rubaiyyat
The Ghazal is like the Orient’s version of the Sonnet, it is the form of love poetry bar none, but it can also be used for metaphysical poetry, and even nationalist and patriotic poetry in some cultures has found a home in the courtly Ghazal.

Agha Shahid Ali, a Kashmiri-American poet, has guided many English language poets in exploring the Ghazal though it’s to be noted that American poets have occasionally explored the Ghazal going back a hundred years, and Goethe himself wrote several German ones.

The Ruba’i, a specific Quatrain, also has been with English poetry lovers since the late 18th century. FitzGerald’s mis-translations of the Rubayyat of Omar Khayyam (a mistranslation that often projected Fitzgerald’s anxieties and interests as a secular and atheist early Modern Britisher on Khayyam) did, at least, open the form of the Ruba’i to English writers.

Ruba’iat are similar to Ghazal verses in that there is a discontinuous nature to them, this irritates some westerners though post-modern Westerners, Germans, Americans, and English mostly, are better able to appreciate the Ghazal’s unique gift that the Victorians and Edwardians of the Previous century.

Ruba’iat are able to express philosophical and metaphysical concepts, as well as erotic and amorous feelings, and even simple folk wisdom, in a highly concentrated form, Ghazal verses (called Sher in Hindustani, Misras in Persian, and Bayts in Arabic) are also capable of this but the Ruba’i allows more complex treatment of one topic.

The basic tools of the Ghazal can be pulled off in English verse, the Matla, the Takhallus, Qafiyya (rhyme) and the Radif (Refrain) but what eludes many English poets, the few brave, or crazy, enough to try it, is the meter.

Ghazals and Ruba’ia must be done in one meter through the whole poem. Fair enough, but every past culture that borrowed the Ghazal and it’s cousins also borrowed the whole system of prosody. Of course, they made it theirs just like English and American poets bade the Greek and Roman Iambs and Trochees work for them, but the metre system that governs the Ghazal is considerably more complex than the prosody most modern English speaking poets are used to.

For inspiration I flipped through a couple of 19th century manuals of versification and prosody, and was shocked at how little modern poetry sources teach things that were basic features of Victorian age versification. Some of the more complex 3 and 4 syllable feet – borrowed from the Greeks to apply to English verse, do fit the more complex quantitative metres. Reading through a Missionary Society translation of a book on Persian prosody by Jami set some thoughts rolling in my head.

The most common metres used in Urdu/Hindustani and Persian Ghazals and Ruba’ai are often variants of the Hazaji meter. The meter used in Mathnavis is mostly a Hendecasyllabic meter with 4 variable syllables that can be long or short, and a few set ones that are always long. The Greek Sapphic meter is an example. It’s been successfully done in English verse countless times.

The key to adopting the rhythmic possibilities of the type of longer Quantitative feet used in Persian, Urdu, and even (though more difficult) Arabic poetry – not to say Greek and Latin -s the Amphibrach.

Yep, the little known but highly useful Amphibrach. It’s like an iamb with a tail. In fact some verse explicitly written as Amphibrachic is often mistaken for a pentameter with iambs and trochees. It takes some practice spotting amphibrachs.  I used to use them all the time without realizing it, you have to think of the foot length – not syllable length – of the line, and then count groupings. For example an amphibrach is -/- so if you have

-/–/-/- this might get mistaken for an iamb, anapest (oh my dead Annabel lee!) and an iamb with some syllable sticking out. it’s not, it’s
amphibrach, amphibrach, trochee. 3 feet

The spondee is useful. // so mix spondee’s with amphibrachs.

Use them.
Pyrrhic’s are also useful —

Now, in order to approximate the meters of Persian, Hindustani, or Arabic (much less than Greek) you will also need to use these two feet, at times.

A choriamb  /–/ e.g. “What a mistake” is a choriamb, it’s essentially a  trochee /- followed by an iamp -/ but considered as one four syllable foot.

An amphimacer  or cretic /-/ e.g. See you Later, /-/-
Alligator /-/-

Here you have an amphimacer followed by an unstressed syllable, but there are additional things to keep in mind, just reflect on them and soak them up. Combining an iamb with a spondee or pyrrhic may be necessary, or even getting OUT of the framework of conventional Western prosody metrics, and doing something like -//-

“and Shall I remind you”  -//- /-

It takes motivation, but the benefit is musicality and subtle regularity – exotic foreign meters add something to English verse that traditional staid iambic of trochaic pentameter lacks. Regularity and movement, but with variation, felt excitement.  Also fidelity to a form. But how to pull this off?

The REAL key is word order, poetic diction isn’t supposed to sound like a reasonable orderly conversation if the poetry is rapture’d passionate and inspired. The even orderly iambic pentameter of classical English verse reflects an excessive preoccupation with perfect orderliness. But the best poetry often has an inspired diction, inverted word order, substitutions.

Just wrapping our head on diction, different ways to say what we want to say, opens up to our hearts and minds new possibilities. Think it over.

Now, where this comes handy.  There are specific meters in Urdu, Hindi, and Persian that are commonly used for Ghazals and Ruba’i.

The reason these meters are used is the emotional effect of the rhythm on the reader or listener. The actual meter compliments specific concepts and ideas or imagery. Also, boring conservative tradition dictated using the same formal meters for centuries. But it originated in the emotional effects.

The challenge of making meaning fit in a strict meter scheme is what adds to the brilliance of the poetry, it is a difficult intellectual task and requires a sharp mind and contemplation.

Since these meters originated largely in Arabic a Semitic language but were most highly developed by Persian and Urdu (though in Africa, Hausa and Fulani both re-worked and developed many of these meters), highly dissimilar Indo-European languages, the intellectual effort of making them fit into their languages suggested new ways of expression, of saying things to convey meaning.

The very act of trying to meter something or searching for rhymes often activates a hidden process in our heads in which complementary meanings just seem to “come to us” taking our verses in strange directions, suggestion new lines of conversation and thought.

Post modern poets, many of whom write in really artificial free-verse forms themselves, are often somehow put off on the “artificiality” of meter and rhyme, this is a nonsense objection – it’s poetry, poetry is by its nature artificial, different from normal speech, the form in poetry molds the meaning intensely. The main reason objections like this are sincerely put forth by talented poets who sincerely mean them is that somewhere, a long time ago, a contrarian decided to simply just be contrarian, and it became a fad, and people followed it.

I’ll probably poke around a bit more on specific Persian, Urdu, and Arabic meters that can be highly useful in English language poetry sometime.

Poetry notes: tricky using Arud Bahr meter in English Ghazals and Ruba’i – Part 1

I want to talk about the Ghazal, and Rubayyat. But first, you may reflect on this.

It’s all about the rhythm. This is true in love, and it is true in verse.

The cadence, the motion, the rocking of sounds.

The Sex, whether gentle lovemaking, or passionate sweaty dual, all is rhythm. The motion in the ocean, the rhythm.

Sleep, whether hurried and disturbed, or smooth and deep, is rhythm. Breathing, hard and shallow after a workout or run, or soft and deep in moments of relaxation and contemplation, is rhythm.

In all traditional religions, before they lost formal rites, the rites themselves are rhythmic. In Islam what stands out par excellence is the daily Salat rite, but also the invocatory dhikr (zikr), in Hinduism the ejaculatory Japa Yoga is similar, in which traditional mantras were recited in a strongly rhythmic manner. The Greek Orthodox rites, some of them anyway, have similarly rhythmic natures to them.

Meter, or metre, is simply the art and science (both) of rhythmic language arranged in an order. Now we often misunderstand this, it doesn’t have to be a perfectly regular anal-retentive order, in fact the best metre has variation in it, sometimes intense variation, but still an underlying framework and order.

Many poets see themselves as free spirits who are suffocated underneath rules. But the greatest artists were people who first mastered the rules and then transcended them, who mastered the forms so well that the underlying reason for the forms because crystal clear. Then what they created was brilliant.

Modern poetry was caught up in a battle between formal verse, and “free verse” which really was mostly actually a form of prose poetry. Some modernist masters, like T.S. Elliot, were actually formalists who transcended the forms – Elliot’s poetry if full of formal verse techniques but cut out, moved around, re-used in new ways. Pound was like this, and even to some degree (though it’s harder to recognize) William Carlos William.

At the same time the traditional tools of verse never went away, it just went underground – since high art abandoned them, the humble lyric took residence with the people.

The ballad became the pop song, country Western lyrics have more in common with the traditional ballad than most people realize, only far more simple.

Take even Rap – much derided by many traditionalists – it has more in common with traditional English prosody than much of today’s high modern poetry. For rap is often a tetrameter or pentameter, with four or five strong stresses, on a line that is actually a disguised distich – often unknown to some MC’s themselves, the Rap Bar is a distich in which each two or three stresses is separated by a caesura.

Just like Beowulf, but much less complex.

The understanding and knowledge of meter is critical to modern song writers, even if what they churn out sounds puerile and silly to purists, the reason they have such force with popular audiences is because of meter and rhyme. Manipulate meter is critical to song writers and rappers. This is because it is the meter that enables the flow.

Let’s play a little game, all of these lyrics – recite them, out loud or to yourself. Do it normally, in your normal speaking voice, but not a monotone. Vary it like you would naturally vary the words.

Then – if you’ve heard the songs before imagine the singer’s or mc’s voice singing or rapping them to you.

Then yourself recite them as if you were reciting poetry. I don’t care about the content of the lyrics, insipid or inspired, we are looking at rhythm and stress .. and to a lesser degree rhyme.

When we finish, as you and I will both see that meter of some sort – either iambic accentual syllabic, or Strong stress based prosody, is still alive and well in pop music – even if it’s been abandoned by much of Western high poetry.

Why? Because it bloody well sells, why ? It’s what makes pop music so popular because it moves people emotionally and physically, when combined with lyrical meaning the flow that meter creates is extremely suggestitive, but we will explore this in a bit right before we get to the Ghazal and Rubayyat.

Do me a favor.

Imagine, in your head, the sultry voice of Shirley Mansion singing – “Dog New Tricks”

“I wish I had not woke up today
Everyone mistakes the things you say”

Here is our little scansion of the verses / means a strong stress  –  means a weak or no stress.


It’s not perfect, English actually has about 4 levels of accentual stress in most dialects, of which prosody only considers strong or weak. The rest of the song has the same pattern more or less. Garbage’s lyrics are pretty regular, in most songs. tetrameter, no caesura, trochaic or iambic straight ahead.

The rest of these verses scan similarly in the song

“Take the simple truth and
Twist it all around
Make it sound important
Make it seem profound”


Now, let’s look at Rap – take Nas “New York State of Mind

“Bulletholes left in my peepholes
I’m suited up in street clothes
Hand me a nine and I’ll defeat foes
Y’all know my steelo with or without the airplay”


Irregular? Yes. Highly.  Most rap is – why, because it’s not an iambic or trochaic prosody. In fact, there is some accentual strong stress here, Nas has a hidden caesura in most of these lines. And there are either 4 or 5 stresses.

When there are three stresses there is sometimes another lurking fourth stress that could be elevated through accent. It’s an intuitive prosody basic to English, pre-iambic – nursery rhymes have it. Beowulf has it, but in a far more sophisticated way. English folk poetry has it. Good rappers with good flow have it, bad rappers predominate because everyone and their cousin all want to be MC’s (is there anything more absurd than the pretentious spelling of MC as Emcee?)

Now, take nine inch nails – “Closer

“You let me violate you
You let me desecrate you
You let me penetrate you
You let me complicate you

Help me; I broke apart my insides
Help me; i’ve got no soul to sell
Help me; the only thing that works for me
Help me get away from myself

I wanna fuck you like an animal
I wanna feel you from the inside

Sexy, isn’t it. Anyway – notice the stresses, and the unstressed syllables.
It’s iambic with variants initial spondees every single line except the refrain

“You let me..” / / –
“Help me I..” / / –

now look at
“penetrate you” /-/-
“complicate you” /-/-

“I wanna feel you from the inside” -/-/-/-/-

Now, are you hot and bothered yet?

Back to rap. But something more sophisticated than American Hip Hop, Tricky dropping some lines with Massive Attack in Eurochild.

“Hell is round the corner where i shelter
Isms and schisms we’re living on a skelter
If you believe i’ll deceive then common sense says shall you receive”


More regular,

“Let me take you down the corridors of my life
And when you walk, do you walk to your preference
No need to answer till i take further evidence
I seem to need a reference to get residence
A reference to your preference to say i’m a good neighbour
I trudge so judge me for my labour
I walk in a bar and immediately I sense danger
You look at me, girl, as if i was some kind of a
A total stranger”

-/-/ , –/–/-
-/-/- , /-//-/-/
-/-/-/- , –/-/
-/-/ –/-/ -/ /–/- (reference and preference can be pronounced in two syllables, colloquially it often is – in some bizarre sort of elision that only we English speakers can muck up)
-/-/- , /-/-
-/–/ , /-/-//-/-
-/-/- , -/–//–

Now, here is real fun. Recite – say it out loud – Ministry –  “So What“. The meter should become as clear as a jackhammer.

In some ways, Al Jorgensen’s actually a brilliant lyricist – not something to impress a classicist traditionalist, but there is brilliance behind his bombast – and it can be seen in how his lyrics physically moves listeners violently, viscerally. Like many other Aggro or post-industrial music artists there is a good deal of loose experimentation with basic lyrical forms, deconstructed. Quite post-modern.

But there is some serious art underneath it when you look.

I’ll refrain from getting all “woo woo” on you, like that guy who wrote the book comparing Punk Rock to dada (a gift from Santiago in Second story books back in 1990 – that book changed my life man, if you are out there.)

“So what, it’s your own problem to learn to live with
Destroy us, or make us slaves
We don’t care, it’s not our fault that we were born too late
A screaming headache on the promised age
Killing time is appropriate
To make a mess and fuck all the rest, we say, we say
So what? So what?”

// /-//–/-/-
/-/-/-/ , -/-/-/

Now, Massive Attack again and then Ice Cube with NWA
3d in Massive Attack – “Inertia Creeps”

“Recollect me darling raise me to your lips
Two undernourished egos four rotating hips
Hold on to me tightly I’m a sliding scale
Can’t endure then you can’t inhale
Out of body experience interferes
And dreams of flying I fit nearly
Surrounds me though I get lonely

Moving up slowly
Inertia keeps”

Notice the hidden caesura – just about everywhere. Again, like most massive attack stuff very regular, it SEEMS iambic but it’s actually a looser strong stress three or two stresses, pause three or two or sometimes four
Unstressed syllables can fit anywhere.

/-/-/- , //–/
-/-/-/- , -/–/
-/-//- , /-/-/
/-/ , /-/-/
/-/- , -/-//-/
-/-/- , /-/-
-/- , /–/-

Now to something less sophisticated, Ice Cube in NWA‘s “I Ain’t the One

“I ain’t the one, the one to get played like a pooh butt
See I’m from the street, so I know what’s up
On these silly games that’s played by the women
I’m only happy when I’m goin up in em
But you know, I’m a menace to society
But girls in biker shorts are so fly to me
So I step to em, with aggression
Listen to the kid, and learn a lesson today
See they think we narrow minded

//-/, -/–/–/-
–/-/, -/–/-
/-/, –/—/–
/-/-/, /-/-
/—/, blah blah

Again, because the song’s, like, kinda funny.

“Run out of money, and watch your heart break
They’ll drop you like a bad habit
Cause a brother with money yo, they gotta have it
Messin with me though, they gets none
You can’t juice Ice Cube girl, cause I ain’t the one”

-/-/- , -/-//
-/- , /-//-
–/–/-/ , -/-/-
/-/– , -//
-////- , -//-/

Irregular, usually 4 or 5 stresses to line, but more freely added elsewhere. But the medial pause, a caesura. usually weighted after two or three stresses. Characteristic of most Rap. Especially early Hip-Hop, or English trip-hop. Modern Gangsta Rap structurally is often pretty idiotic.

A lot of Old School rap was surprisingly regular and well structured – the important thing in rap is the overall flow, and how the stresses accomplish it. So the scansion, where it looks like stresses are irregular, they are actually placed where it is felt they facilitate the flow of the lyrics.

Now – a bit more sensitive – let’s briefly bounce to MC Kayne

“how do i feel about you, well here’s what i’ve got to say.
hopes are sky high but my expectations are concave.
truth be told i just hope i can just once watch you sleep.

/–/-/-, -//-/-/
/-//, –/-/-/-/

Irregular, but the caesura’s in the middle he’s got 3 stresses before each caesura, and 4 after

So, let’s move on to something more serious, shall we? All that I want you to do is to keep in mind the rhythm, tap your fingers or toe, count the pulses. The pulses are your friend. The ebb and flow, the rise and fall, the inward and the outward, the exhalation and inhalation, the penetration and the withdraw, the attack and the retreat.


Some good off season Kenneth Cole and Old Navy

I like good quality off-the-rack clothing, and when I can actually afford it I certainly like bespoke, or made to measure, items as well. Sometimes I discover gems in the rough, very nice items where you wouldn’t expect. Away from the usual boutiques and in plainer locations.

I decided to mall hop yesterday. I enjoy people watching in general, the cute mall-brat girls half my age are pleasant distracting eye candy, the rural families coming in from the sticks, eyes open in wonder at the consumerist glory of it all are interesting to watch, the serial shop-lifters and their patterns, the Israeli girls hocking Dead Sea Salt (on the side, for those interested I have a warehouse full 0f Dead Sea Salt available wholesale, FOB point Amelia Ohio, 200 lbs minimal order quantity – email me for details), the Israeli part-time art student guys selling weird trinkets, the Punjabi Jewelry and diamond sellers, the bored Chinese kids manning belt kiosks, the human painting before me. I like mall hopping and seeing which way the wind blows. I only do it infrequently, though.

Yesterday, I discovered, to my surprise that last season’s stuff seems nicer than this seasons. I also discovered that I’d lost far more inches off my waist that I’d remotely expected. Which amused me. I blame it on kettlebells and Intermittent fasting. Reining in my white sugar addiction may also have played a role.

I stumbled on a few Kenneth Cole shirts at Dillard’s. I actually started out at Macy’s dress and club shirts were nice, there was a pretty good selection of Calvin Klein. Hugo Boss wasn’t too bad. A few of the Alfani’s were nice (though most were obnoxiously male peacock wear, stuff resurrected from the worst cutting-room floor discarded scenes of Miami vice. I did like some of the iridescent ones though. The DKNY stuff was crap. There were a few twill iridescent pattern  Tasso Elba Shirts that weren’t too over the top, they fit well enough, and could actually be worn in an office (you’d get a few stares though)

I swung by Express and a few of the other smaller boutiques, nothing they had for this season impressed me. So then I made my way to Dillard’s and stumbled on a few awesome Kenneth Cole shirts. What shocked me was that the cut, and quality, was better than Calvin Klein or Hugo Boss, the men’s slim shirts have a nice athletic fit, a trim and tailored look but not gaudy. The shirts were very well constructed and fit me much better than other counterparts. Kenneth Cole’s production quality, in their men’s shirts at least, seems to have gone up over the last few years.

Weirdly enough their solid slim fit seems to fit my shape very well, in spite of my slight paunch. Their athletic cut for some reason or another is more natural than Calvin Klein’s. Calvin Klein looks good on me, but there is something too sharp to the look, and it feels artificial. The Kenneth Cole shirts were tailored in appearance and fits me very well, but feel natural, they move with my body. Better, the nicer colors and selections were on discount.

How lucky can a guy get? Because the discounted 2009 stuff is more to my taste anyway, as far as color and fabrics are concerned.

From what I see of the ’10 Kenneth Cole dress shirts, the quality is just as good, but the colors are softer this season. I gravitate towards dark clothing, black, or midnight blue with black stripes or patterns (herringbone, piques, etc.) so the happy happy pastel stuff doesn’t quite appeal to me.

Same cut and same quality though. There are also a few metallic satin like patterns that are appropriate for office wear but also look great outside of the office.


I later stopped at Old Navy – and picked up a few loose Men’s striped dress pants and herringbone khakis. For some weird reason Old Navy pants always fit me extremely well. I have some Calvin Klein’s and they are uncomfortable. I also have some more formal suit pants that fit me well, but the super 120 wool stuff needs too much caring.

I need cotton pants that can take a bit of a bruising and yet still look nice. Old Navy – low end as they are – didn’t let me down last year, when I picked up some 2008 grey Herringbone pants.

They fit me like a dream, but are now a bit loose in the waist (though they’ve held up well) – I liked them so much I decided to return – and return I did. Beyond the rash of unsolicited complements I got on the ones previously picked up, they simply felt naturally comfortable.

Old Navy’s “loose” patterned dress pants and Khakis really are not “loose” – they just simply are not scandalously and effeminately skin tight. They are also not Khakis or Chinos, the fabrics are cotton, and they are constructed like flat-front Khakis but they have a bit more of a dress flair. Back to the fit, they have a natural and somewhat athletic feel to their fit.

Last year I picked up some of the 2008 discontinued size 33 and 32’s – they fit me well, but this spring these are simply too loose and bunch up with my new belt. So I decided to try out a size 31 and 30. Both fit me naturally,  like a dream, they are comfortable, and look quite flattering. Also they are not over-tight – though my observing friend did inform me that the size 30 pants – while a perfect fit everywhere else – seriously bulges in a scandalous way at the crotch. Which simply will not do.

I took my friend’s advice and just bought the 31s. If I do lose any more weight off the waist I’ll probably just have the 31’s taken in instead of buying 30’s. The last thing I need at work is flaunting an obscene man-bulge. That would be bad, and gaudy. Downright tacky.

So I like these pants. They are dressy but not in an over the top, overly formal way. They have a somewhat casual and relaxed edge at the same time. Not that I remotely care, but the unsolicited complements today do seem to indicate that my appraisal of their fittingness was correct.

These pants wear nice with blazers and suit separate jackets, and nice without them. If they had an affiliate program I would probably hock them on my blog like a cheap pitchman, but they don’t. Yet I still say “gentlemen, buy them. They will look good on you and are a huge upgrade to the typically boring khaki chinos your office expects.”

And predictably enough Old Navy discontinued them. The same as with their unwashed hard shiny indigo dye jeans, they discontinue the best items and keep the ones appealing to 19 year old frat boys.

Bloody tossers, the lot of ’em.

In any case this means these items are shoved in the discount racks for the rest of the season, a perverse joy – their best ’09 items are marked down next to nothing while their worst ’10 items are still premium price. Strange.