Pushcart 2015: Marilyn Hacker, “Ghazal” (poem) from Little Star, #5

Across the river, in the orchard on the hill, a woman
said, sometimes a handful of red earth can fulfill a woman.

I’d never heard of the ghazal before: a poetic form indigenous to Middle Eastern and Indian literature, featuring a theme of love and separation – unrequited or absent love, separation, longing – and using a structure of couplets which end with the same word throughout the poem. The focus here is obviously on a woman: the speaker? The poet?

It’s a highly evocative poem (you can find it on tumbler), but it’s unclear to me exactly what in particular is being expressed. Because I know about the unrequited love theme, because I know a little bit about Hacker’s world view and see the poem’s connection to Arabic poetry, language, and stories (the “red earth” imagery appears in A Thousand and One Nights), I sense an emotional reaction to the political, the loss one of place and identity – or, given the turn to imagery with more violent content at the middle, perhaps a loss of a way of life, of safety.

Another feature of the ghazal is the maqta: the last couplet includes the author’s name, “often in very creative ways.” Fittingly, the word hakawati is the Arabic word for “storyteller.”

The hakawati with grey hair and no breasts
writing words and crossing them out is still a woman.

I’d say using the word self-referentially as a name is pretty creative.

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