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Unread 05-17-2020, 07:00 AM
Matt Q Matt Q is offline
Join Date: May 2013
Location: England, UK
Posts: 3,690
Default This ghazal is unwell.

Ghazal of sickness

Think what you like, I didn’t pick this sickness.
It sought me out. It’s such a dick, this sickness.

Eight years, three thousand days, twelve thousand rests:
the iterative arithmetic of sickness.

You need to learn its smell, the taste of it.
This may sound gross. It’s how you lick your sickness.

A useless eater, I collect my cheques.
Sewn to my chest, the walking stick of sickness.

The days I think I’ve won all go like this:
I rolled a five! Oh wait, a six for sickness.

On sunny days, I walk the water’s edge.
Tied tight around each ankle, bricks of sickness.

Chronic, from Chronos, time. This bug persists.
Hear that? The parasitic tick of sickness.

I leave it unattended in the street
and say a prayer – but what fool nicks a sickness?

Required to prove my uselessness again,
I take the stage, turn tumbling tricks of sickness.

I’m choosing this? I could just think it gone?
You’ve rumbled me. I get a kick from sickness.

Why stumble through the stony wastes of work?
My life has perks. I think I’ll stick with sickness.

Eight years of brain-fog, nausea, fatigue.
Eventually, you do got sick of sickness.

The poem fails: The repetition grates,
the jokes grow thin – the heart, the quick of sickness.

You ask me: can’t I leave it at the door?
I wipe my feet. The mat grows thick with sickness.


New shers: S7, S12

S8L2: tied tight around my ankles -> tied tight around each ankle

S12L2: I ace the test with tumbling tricks of sickness -> I take the stage, turn tumbling tricks of sickness.

Last edited by Matt Q; 05-22-2020 at 03:01 PM.
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Unread 05-17-2020, 11:19 AM
RCL's Avatar
RCL RCL is offline
Join Date: Oct 2000
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Posts: 5,553
Default sick and tired

Sick of sickness sums up our condition and the poem neatly. A life-time loather of G's, I like the way this one captures the insanely insistent way the sickness defines our lives. Not sick of the poem, at all, but of what it represents. The persona has an admirable sense of humor bordering on obsessive. Good to go!
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Unread 05-17-2020, 04:35 PM
Cally Conan-Davies Cally Conan-Davies is offline
Join Date: Nov 2006
Location: Australia
Posts: 4,097

Mat -- the mat at the end (I always forget the word for one's name in the final line) is a masterstroke. Its position, such a lowly thing, an unregarded thing, really settles the despairing mood at the end, after all the wonderful subtle mood shifts through each sher. Varying degrees of anger kept in check by wonderful dry humour. That enraged feeling of not being believed. The indignity of it all, all the hoops you have to jump through. If those are your symptoms in the penultimate sher, I've got them, too -- for years. Do they call yours chronic fatigue?

I keep reading it through to pick a favourite sher, or a least favourite one, just to give you something to chew on, but I can't! Each one gives me some little exquisitely wrought insight into the nature of the sickness, and the way of coping with it. Ok -- here's one: I love the tone of this -- "I'm choosing this? I could just think it gone? / You've rumbled me. I get a kick from sickness". And I always spurt with laughter each time I read "but what fool nicks a sickness?"

Mat, I'm sorry to say it, but this is highly entertaining!!!

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Unread 05-17-2020, 06:58 PM
Julie Steiner Julie Steiner is offline
Join Date: Feb 2003
Location: San Diego, CA, USA
Posts: 6,455

I love "A useless eater, I collect my cheques," but I don't understand how a walking stick can be sewn to someone's chest.

Literal Lulu here would also like this...

     On sunny days, I walk the water’s edge.
     Tied tight around my ankles, bricks of sickness. be changed to something that would still allow the narrator to move each leg independently, e.g.:

     On sunny days, I walk the water’s edge.
     Tied tight around each ankle, bricks of sickness.

Or maybe

     On sunny days, I walk the water’s edge.
     Anchoring each ankle, bricks of sickness.

S3's references to taste and smell seem to give a false positive for a coronavirus connection. Maybe it could come later?
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Unread 05-18-2020, 07:07 PM
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Aaron Novick Aaron Novick is offline
Join Date: Sep 2016
Location: Lafayette, Indiana
Posts: 2,280

Matt, I mostly pass over ghazals in silence, because usually I can't feel the form.

But here, I think the repetitiveness does work—the poem itself "grows thick with sickness" as it goes.

It's maybe a bit long—stanzas 8 and 10 start to lose me a bit, before the last two stanzas bring me back.

There's maybe more to do here with the "you" who is asking questions and the sick I, but I'm not sure what, so make of this half-formed thought what you will.
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Unread 05-19-2020, 09:54 AM
Matt Q Matt Q is offline
Join Date: May 2013
Location: England, UK
Posts: 3,690

Ralph, Cally, Julie, Aaron,

Many thanks for reading and commenting.


I've probably picked the wrong time to write and post this poem, what with their being so much sickness about. I was intending to right about a minority experience (chronic illness) rather than the current prevailing sickness. I'm not sure what to do about this. However, given how slow I am to send poems out, perhaps the pandemic will be less at the forefront of people's minds by then. I hope so!

Maybe I should retitle the poem. I'd originally called it "Chronic Ghazal", though I don't know if that gives more of a clue.


You've rumbled me! It sounds like you might be the ideal audience for this poem. I'm really pleased it works so well for you. I'm also glad you liked the "nick a sickness" sher. It was a last-minute addition. That maqta (which almost an anagram of Matt Q) came about largely because I knew that Mary if saw I hadn't written one, she'd suggest I did. So thanks, internalized Mary! There can't be that many ghazals I could write that feature a mat, though.


I'm glad you liked the "useless eaters" line. Did you recognise the term? "Unnütze Esser" was a Nazi designation applied to people unable to work due to disability (and others, too) -- which modern narratives around disability and social security from the right-wing press and politicians sometimes echoes. In the context, my thinking was that "the walking stick of sickness" can be sewn to your chest in the same way that a black triangle or a Star or David could. Did this come across, and if so, does is till seem like a literal walking stick -- rather than an emblem or badge?

Peter Pedantic and David Defensive want to point out that "tied around my ankles" doesn't necessarily imply tied around both ankles (compare, e.g. "I wear bracelets around my wrists"). But yes, maybe I should make this clearer.

I'd not made the connection between taste and smell and this being read as corona-related. I played around considerably with the order, and had considered swapping S3&4, though one constraint I've imposed on myself -- perhaps unnecessarily -- is that no two consecutive shers have the same penultimate word. In particular, I didn't want "of sickness" in two consecutive stanzas.


I'd hoped the piling up of repetition was suiting for the subject-matter, so I'm pleased that worked for you.

With S8, I wasn't happy with the wording of L2, so I'll look at it again. What I'm referencing is the repeated assessments (such as "Work-capability Tests") that people on disability-related social security are required to attend. The need to prove one's disability/illness, and to present oneself in a certain way and put on a show -- hence the tumbling tricks. I'd be interested to know if the intent came across, or if it's primarily the execution that's an issue for you.

With S10, this is in part playing with the discourse of "work-shy" disabled social security claimants, and partly intended straight-ahead. I though the first line could be better though, and the imagery is maybe a bit obvious (it was originally "desert wastes" which is even more cliche). I'll give it some more attention.

I'll think about whether I can make more of the 'you', make it more of a feature of the poem. I hadn't been thinking of it necessarily referring to the same person/people, but maybe there's somewhere to go with that.

Thanks again everyone,


Last edited by Matt Q; 05-20-2020 at 06:33 AM.
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Unread 05-20-2020, 04:01 AM
Andrew Frisardi Andrew Frisardi is offline
Join Date: Nov 2003
Location: Lazio, Italy
Posts: 5,133

This is well done and with some fun turns of phrase, but I'm less sure than others have been that the ghazal form suits the theme. From what I gather from the three ghazal meisters on this board -- Siham, Mary, and Nemo -- the ghazal calls for (as Siham put it to me once) "ravishing disunities" or schmaltz or ott emotion, not so much merely obsessive thought, which seems more the province of the sestina or villanelle (among repeating forms). This might account for my own experience of reading the poem, which is that the repetitions don't engage me in the experience of the N and his illness so much as call attention to themselves.

In sum, though I admire the writing, as usual with your work, here I end up being hung up on the form more than into the poem and its content.

I see that others have enjoyed it as is, so with a grain of salt and all . . .


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Unread 05-20-2020, 06:39 AM
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R. Nemo Hill R. Nemo Hill is online now
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Location: Halcott, New York
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I must confess that I am in agreement with Andrew, Matt. While this is well-executed, it strikes me that the ghazal form is used here to be merely clever, while the the mesmeric quality of its repetitions isn't harnessed at all. It does recall more the tone, as Andrew says, of many sestinas and villanelles. Given my own admitted proclivities for the mesmerization of reverie, I find that one must work against the villanelle and sestina forms to achieve any of that dreamlike flow which in a ghazal seems a gentle dictate which one has only to surrender to.

Of course, a given in all this is my personal poetic prejudices which have grown more and more marked with age. In the end I find your poem interesting, but not really a ghazal at all. It follows the rules, skillfully; but for me the secret of a form is often what one discovers by passing through its rules to a place beyond them. I'd be the first to admit how seldom that happens (both to myself and others), but it is a worthy goal, and it also gives one a distinctive relationship to the interpretation of the laws of poetic form.

Here, I hear you conforming to those laws with an ingenuity that deserves applause in its own right. But I get tired of clapping, and find I always want more once the applause dies down. And I feel the ghazal form demands that quiet post-applausal swoon.

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Unread 05-20-2020, 08:19 AM
Jim Moonan Jim Moonan is offline
Join Date: Aug 2016
Location: Boston, MA
Posts: 2,541

I remain a novice with regard to the art of writing in poetic forms; learning little by little about their power to harness visions with words — I've learned mostly by reading the dialog here on the Sphere

Matt, I’ve been reading this ghazal for days now. Had I not held back with my comments until now I would have effused praise on how you took the form and made it speak in your own voice. I still do find lots to praise here, but temper it in the light of Nemo’s comments. I agree whole-heartedly with his assessment of the form’s alchemic majesty. I’ve read his own collection of ghazals. They indeed go far beyond the form they are anchored in. (Just mentioning them makes me eager to dig them out again and re-read).

But isn’t there an argument to be made that the form is secondary? Isn’t it simply scaffolding for this poem’s pain and dread? This ghazal takes the form and gives it a different purpose: to reveal the insidiousness of chronic sickness and buoy it with humor.
You could have shaped this into a sonnet or villanelle if you so chose. You could have chosen free verse. But you didn’t. You chose the ghazal. It works. Each couplet stands on it’s own yet becomes stronger with it’s linking to the others. It takes me beyond the form and face to face with sickness and makes me smirk at it.

Last edited by Jim Moonan; 05-21-2020 at 05:54 AM.
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Unread 05-21-2020, 11:27 PM
Mark McDonnell Mark McDonnell is online now
Join Date: May 2016
Location: Staffordshire, England
Posts: 3,576

Hi Matt,

I think I'm with Nemo, in that while lots of individual lines are clever, the poem seems to work by hammering the same point home, which might not suit the ghazal form. The poem has one very clear point to make, which I feel would be better made in a form that more obviously lends itself to narrative (or, if repetition is the point, perhaps villanelle). I got what the poem was about from the first sher, the first line really. The speaker has an illness that is looked on with suspicion ("Think what you like") and is obliged to defend himself against this attitude. So immediately we know it's something not obviously visible, or a mental health issue. We've learned by S2, 4, then definitely 7 that it's a form of ME or chronic fatigue syndrome and that he collects benefits and is made to feel stigmatised by this.
For me, the poem doesn't go anywhere, or say much, beyond repeating these ideas even though some individual lines are striking. It isn't that these things aren't worth saying, but it feels a bit like a polemic in the wrong body. Yes, the 'mat' is clever.

Ah well, others like it. And Nemo didn't much like my ghazal either.

Last edited by Mark McDonnell; 05-22-2020 at 01:44 AM.
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