The challenge of the ghazal is more intense than many of the strict forms in the poetic tradition. While even a fair sestina or villanelle can impress by its sheer technical audacity, a ghazal places all its chips on a single word or phrase. It is not rhyme or pattern, then, which governs the poem’s agenda, but that one phrase/word’s energy and élan. The greatest practitioner in recent times has been the Kashmiri American poet Agha Shahid Ali, and his excellence tends to make other efforts drab by comparison. Even Linda Stern Zisquit seems willing to acknowledge the limits of the form, as in “Ghazal: Ache” where she writes, “Stern has already disappointed/with this attempt, this futile sore ache.” While she does accomplish several beautiful versions, I was relieved to find in the middle of this chapbook a respite, when she slips into the looser fabrics of free verse. “Song,” dedicated to Robert Creeley, bears the limpid honesty of its admired subject, while “Listen” shows her verbal verve and sensuality.
Jason Myers is a writer whose work has appeared in AGNI, BOOKFORUM, and Tin House.