Poetry Forms: How to Write a Ghazal

The Ghazal is an ancient form of poetry that has only recently gained acceptance in the mid-1990s in America. The form originated in Persia and spread to India and then eventually to Afghanistan as well as Turkey.


It is a very unique and somewhat controversial form of poetry with the English and American interpretation being very different than the original Persian format. The Ghazal is also sung in India, Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan marking a tradition that goes back hundreds of years.




The Ghazal consists of anywhere from 5 to 15 couplets with most averaging about 8 to 10 couplets in length. The lines in each couplet should be equal in length, also known as the meter, which could be 7 to 10 syllables in each line.


This ancient method of poetic expression also traditionally has both a rhyme and a refrain. The rhyme in the first line of the couplet sets the tone for the rest of the poem. The refrain would occur as the last word in the second line of each couplet. The rhyming word usually is the word before the refrain. An example to illustrate this concept is:

A knock on my door this morning

While I cleaned the floor this morning


My refrain and title of the poem is “This Morning” and the rhyming word is “door” which then has to be rhymed in the second line of each subsequent couplet. The refrain of “this morning” will be repeated in each line of the entire poem.


A mitigating rule of the structure of a Ghazal is that each couplet should have its own thought and be completely different from one another. This can be difficult to achieve especially with the involvement of the refrain. Each couplet was meant to be read or extracted as a “stand alone” poem, which can make this format very difficult for new or young writers.


It is important to note, that in the traditional version used in the Middle East, the last couplet, or closing couplet made a reference in some way to the poet’s name or pen name. In my case it could be something very overt:

I found my mind drew a blank at that moment

I thought: “C’mon now Frank” at that moment


However, it could also be a veiled reference to the name of the poet or his or her initials could be used in the final couplet.


In later years, after different translations of the form had taken hold, the reference to the writer’s name has been removed from the requirements of the form. It is my understanding that some writers felt that it was too restrictive to the number of poems they could write in this form.


The other issue with that requirement was that it could force the poet to deviate from the theme of the poem in order to mention their name in the closing couplet.


I have written several Ghazal formatted poems and used some reference to my name to keep it the most pure interpretation of the original Persian form.




In the original conception of the Ghazal back in Persia and India, the theme of this type of poetry was limited to love or romance with a heavy emphasis on relationships which were socially unacceptable. The focal emotion being the pain and melancholy caused by that separation.


In later variations of the Ghazal the thematic requirements shifted away from that specific area, and while most poems written in this format have been about love; they began to be written about basically any topic.


In my experience, writing a Ghazal can be difficult regardless of the theme, the key concept is to have an idea of the meter, rhyme, and refrain before you begin to draft the poem. The process then becomes essentially “back filling” the rest of the poem based off the primary words involved in the rhyme and the refrain. The challenge is to fit the added words in within the correct meter.


Alterations from the Original


The Ghazal form of poetry has been altered more than many other forms of poetry I have come across from the original version to the modern version. These alterations were driven by a few factors, primarily the translation from Persian or the ancient Indian or Pakistani forms to English. In essence, some elements were lost in translation, created ambiguity, or were reformed to suit a Western audience.


One major alteration over time was the waiver of the requirement of having a refrain. The refrain, particularly in the Western translations, became an optional component of the Ghazal. The neglect of the refrain could create conditions where the poet would have more flexibility in writing within this rather complex form.


An additional alteration was with regard to the couplets involved being related to one common theme. The original versions were about love, but the couplets were unique components. This shifted to Ghazal poems being linked to a central theme. Some feel that this is not a “true Ghazal”, and that the couplets need to have a feel of inherent exclusivity.


Moreover, the most common criticism of the purists of the Ghazal form pertaining to the American interpretation of the form is that the American poets disregard the meter. A “true Ghazal” should have the same syllabic meter in each line of the piece, whether it is 8 syllables or 10 syllables, and that Americans just choose to ignore it and write whatever suits their cause.


The neglect of the meter requirement causes the Ghazal to lose the flowing romanticism that was intended by the original creators of this ancient poetic format.


Common Mistakes


In my experience, writing within the Ghazal form can be very difficult but very rewarding when it is completed within the correct guidelines. I have sat many afternoons at my desk staring at the paper in my notebook trying to make a Ghazal work within the criteria provided by the original Persian format.


I have made the common mistake of selecting a rhyming word that does not work throughout the number of couplets I had planned for the full poem. That mistake can be avoided by free writing several rhyming words and use the words which have several variations for the rhyme line.


I have also made the common mistake of choosing a refrain word that is too limited in scope to be able to create a full Ghazal that flows correctly. It is very tough to make each couplet separate yet make sense contextually with a common refrain. My advice would be to choose a refrain that is very broad: based on a season, a time period (yesterday or tomorrow), or a love based theme.


The meter requirement is also present in many other poetry forms, so I find that I do not have as much trouble making the meter work with the concepts I choose to utilize. However, the problematic elements to meter which are present in the Ghazal and not in other formats are the requirements of the rhyme and the refrain. Those one or two words (depending on if you are writing a Ghazal without a refrain) can cause issues with the meter of the words you choose to “back fill” the poem with in each couplet.


A common feeling of some writers, myself included, is that the method of selecting the rhyme and refrain words prior to the rest of the poem can cause a situation where I have felt that I am mixing and matching words based on the meter and context. This process can take some of the raw emotion out of the poem, which is a self-defeating exercise.


Explore and Find


After working within this form for a while I would suggest that the best way to use this ancient type of poetry is to explore, practice, and find your way to the best method to write within the Ghazal.


I have a few recommendations though before you launch into this effort:

  1. Do not eliminate the requirements from the original version from Persia use a rhyme word, a refrain, and a strict meter.
  2. Conceptualize and free write more than you would before writing within another form to have a broad theme and rhyming words which work.
  3. Make sure the couplets that are used are completely different from one another. This can be achieved by choosing concepts that are very close to you personally. This will help you to expand upon the broad theme yet make the couplets different.


I hope that this article will help all the new and young poets to write within the ancient form of the Ghazal. When it is done with great respect paid to the requirements of the format, it can be a very rewarding way to express your feelings on a variety of themes and experiences.


(Some background information courtesy of Poets.org, Baymoon.com, Wikipedia.com)


Between The Lines: GMOs and Food Labeling

The announcement today that Congress is considering a bill introduced by Representative Mike Pompeo of Kansas which would nullify the laws in place on the state level regarding the disclosure of GMO ingredients in food products is troubling.


My rationale for this viewpoint is different than others in this matter because I still maintain that a federal standard for food labeling is the only practical solution to this issue moving forward. The problem I have with the bill introduced today called the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act is that it would remove any mandated disclosure of GMO ingredients in our food products.


Mr. Pompeo made remarks today to the media that GMO products are safe and healthy for the consumer, and that is why he maintains that the separate labeling disclosure is not needed. Some experts within both the scientific and environmental protection communities would respectfully disagree with this notion made by the congressman from Kansas earlier today.


In fairness to both sides of this issue, scientific study data has demonstrated evidence of potential health problems in both animals and humans with regard to GMO ingredients. The environmental groups are concerned about the chemicals used in the process of growing genetically engineered food ingredients. The Monsanto product Roundup is just one of a number of chemicals used in GM farming that have created issues such as weed resistance.


Mountain of Data


The scientific data is mounting regarding the negative effects of GMO containing ingredients in food products. One study has linked GMOs in food to 18 million diagnosed celiac disease patients.


Another study shows that the before mentioned Roundup product is classified as a “xenoestrogen” which simulates the effect of real estrogen in the human body. The increased levels of this hormone is linked to a higher risk for cancer, infertility, and thyroid conditions.


Moreover, the higher levels of estrogen and glyphosate in genetically altered soybeans has been linked to increased cases of breast cancer.


Genetically modified foods have been shown to lower crop yields and increase overall pesticide use per a study published in the Journal of Food and Chemical Toxicology. This study and others brought about the push for action in California and Washington state, which I covered in a previous article, where ballot initiatives regarding the use of GMOs fell short of gaining approval by very small margins respectively.


In each state, Monsanto, the Grocery Manufacturers Association, and a consortium of large food manufacturers spent millions of dollars on advertising campaigns to defeat these measures.


The Future


The future of the GMO labeling debate took a step in Congress where the food companies could volunteer to disclose the presence of GMOs in their products. The current backlash against GMOs in our food have caused the American public to look negatively upon those products which contain modified ingredients.

In that light, what food company would voluntarily choose to disclose GMOs in their products? They know that it will effectively decrease the sales of the product, so they will choose to not provide that information, which eliminates any substance from this proposed Congressional bill.


Currently, 27 states have proposed legislation regarding the disclosure of GMO containing ingredients in food products. I have stated before that the state-by-state approach will not work, it will cause chaos in our food supply system, and disrupt interstate commerce.


The federal system has to provide a universal food labeling solution to this GMO dilemma. The evidence is clear that these products are not good for the health and safety of humans or animals. The solution provided needs to promote a mandatory declaration of any GMO containing ingredients.


The sheer cost of the treatment of Americans from various illnesses potentially linked to GMO containing products is reason enough for us to try to resolve this matter.


In my view, it should be a fundamental right for us, as Americans, to make an informed choice with regard to GMOs in our food. I hope our government will trust us to do so and provide us the mechanism in which we can determine our own food consumption choices in the future.


It is clear, this debate regarding GMOs, regardless of recent Congressional activity, is far from being resolved.


(Background information and statistics courtesy of Reuters, CBS News, Journal of Food and Chemical Toxicology, Institute for Responsible Technology, and Global Research.org)

Follow Up: MLS Expansion Update

In a follow up to a recent story covered here on my blog, Frank’s Forum, Major League Soccer (MLS) will, according to a number of high profile media sources, announce the expansion of the league to Atlanta.


This expansion franchise addition in Atlanta has been long rumored and the team will begin play in 2017, when the new downtown stadium for the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons is scheduled for completion. The official announcement is expected next week from the league, and Arthur Blank, the owner of the Falcons is expected to be named the owner of the MLS franchise as well.


I have written previously in my article series on sports expansion and demographics that Atlanta made sense for the future of MLS because it is a Top 10 TV market, the metro area population size, and the need for franchises in the Southeast.


MLS currently has no presence in the Southeast, and with the population demographic shifts in the U.S., they realized this needed to be addressed in future expansion. Atlanta will be the 22nd team in the league which currently has 19 teams split between two conferences. New York City FC will be the 20th franchise and will begin play next year along with Orlando, the 21st franchise and the first in the Southeast.


Miami is rumored to be the next expansion target for MLS with David Beckham heading the ownership group there, the bid is hinging on the finalization of both a temporary stadium, and more importantly, a plan for a dedicated soccer specific stadium being approved.


The South Rises


In the event that the Miami group headed by David Beckham gains approval for an expansion franchise, MLS will have 3 teams in the Southeast, reflecting the importance of the region to the future of the league. It will also create regional rivalries between Atlanta, Orlando, and Miami which MLS also prefers to cultivate in order to grow the overall intensity within the league and the fan base.


These expansion plans will launch MLS into the local and regional markets of some very large demographic areas which also have high yield population growth potential in the future. Each market in the South (Atlanta, Orlando, and Miami) has a nice blend of multicultural diversity which lends itself well to soccer with its strong homogenous global popularity.


Atlanta hosted a big international soccer match last month which drew the largest paid attendance for a soccer game in the city’s history. Orlando draws very well with their current minor league level club, and those numbers are expected to grow with the jump to MLS and the larger capacity in the new stadium.


Miami has been much maligned in the sports media regarding the previous failure of an MLS franchise called the Miami Fusion. The Fusion played four seasons in MLS from 1997 to 2001, and then the franchise was contracted by the league. The franchise failed for many factors: it played in Fort Lauderdale not in Miami, the team lacked corporate support, and it played in an old stadium, Lockhart Stadium, which lacked access to public transportation.


The ownership of the Fusion also lacked the financial resources to operate the team further after the losses they suffered, which will not be present in the group that David Beckham is bringing to this new franchise. The Fusion did spend money to convert Lockhart Stadium into a soccer specific stadium, which is a trend that lasts today and has contributed greatly to the financial stability of MLS.


The new Miami franchise will not have any of the same issues that beset the Fusion. The team plans to play in downtown Miami in a location with excellent public transit access. The latest rumor is that Beckham wants to purchase land for a stadium in the Port of Miami, which has caused the cruise industry to raise objections with the city regarding traffic and parking issues.


The cruise industry objection is a legitimate one being that the busiest day for the cruise industry is Saturday, and the busiest day for the MLS during the soccer season is Saturday as well. I am not sure how that situation will be resolved, but the Beckham group does not require public financing for the new stadium. That is a big factor toward this stadium being located basically wherever they want it to be located.


One More To Go


MLS Commissioner Don Garber has openly discussed reaching 24 teams by the year 2020. That leaves one more expansion slot left after these other plans which have been made public in recent months. My prior article in the series on sports expansion and marketing demographics speculated on where that other franchise might be awarded, and I still think it is most likely going to be in Minneapolis or in Sacramento.


The league has a hole to fill in the franchise coverage of the Midwest which would be filled by Minneapolis, which is also an excellent TV market with an established soccer fan base. The stadium used would be the new NFL stadium for the Vikings, similar to how the MLS plans to operate in Atlanta with the new NFL stadium there being used to host the soccer team during the spring and summer NFL off season.


The case for the growth of MLS is clear, the interest in the league here in the U.S. has never been greater, and the future only looks to be even brighter when these new franchises spread the game even further through America.

(Background data courtesy of AP.com, SI.com, AJC.com, and MLSSoccer.com)

Outsourcing Our Food Supply

The lockout of workers at the Kellogg’s cereal production facility in Memphis is just the latest episode of a large American company trying to cut costs to maximize profits. Kellogg is also under scrutiny for its production of cereal in Mexico and other countries, a move designed to slash production costs even further.


This profit driven behavior has earned them a hash tag on the social media site, Twitter, labeled “Kellogg Greed”.  This whole situation of outsourcing the production of food has become the standard practice rather than the exception. America is supposed to be the “bread basket” for the world, and huge U.S. owned conglomerates are shifting production of basic products, such as cereal, to other countries.


This shift in production has caused two main issues to come to the forefront of the national debate on our food supply:

  1. The potential food safety issues of a supply chain stretched across multiple countries and the cleanliness standards of production facilities outside the U.S.
  2. Renewed fervor toward products being “Made in the USA” and from wholesome and trusted ingredient supply lines.


Lightning Fast


While those two issues are very important, I have observed another negative scenario that has been the result of these production outsourcing decisions: negative publicity and the negative public perception of the company involved.

In today’s age of social media, and the lightning fast delivery of news content, the perception of a company, even one as iconic as Kellogg, can go sideways very quickly. I mentioned earlier that Kellogg has their own Twitter hashtag with a huge thread of “tweets”: communications by average Americans, many of whom are also their customer base, regarding how greed driven their behavior is with the situation in Memphis.


I do not understand why some companies, in this case Kellogg, would inflict so much damage on their public perception over a group of full time workers at one production plant. The labor dispute there, which has now attracted the involvement of the National Labor Relations Board, coupled with the news of the outsourcing of cereal production has made their company look badly.


The public perception of Kellogg is that they are pushing around these average American workers because they can do so, over a small amount of money relative to the profits they have raked in over the years. That negative perception could potentially hurt Kellogg’s overall product sales.


The only rationale myself and other Americans are left with in order to understand the actions of Kellogg in this situation is that it is greed for additional profits. That desire for profit outweighs any negative publicity, let alone the impact it will have on the workers and their families.


The Correct Way


A few years ago, when another iconic American brand, Budweiser, was sold when their parent company, A.B. merged with InBev, a foreign owned brewing company; the American public grew concerned that the new ownership was going to outsource the production of these traditionally American beers.


In fact, the opposite occurred, InBev kept the production facilities in the U.S. and allocated a huge advertising expenditure to tout that Budweiser was made in America. They ran television commercial advertisements touting the locations of the breweries and the freshness of the product. Many Americans were concerned that the quality of the products or the taste profiles will change, and they did not change at all.


InBev executed a very smart public relations campaign because they understood what Budweiser and some of the other A.B. branded products meant to Americans, and they were not going to lose any market share by moving the production of these products to Mexico or South America.


Riding the Wave


Mars Inc., the American confectionary giant, is riding the wave of positive public relations with the announcement of their opening of a new manufacturing facility outside of Topeka, Kansas. It is the first new plant built by Mars in North America in 35 years, but it will provide 200 new jobs and the company has donated $200,000 towards the development of downtown Topeka.


The plant will be able to manufacture 14 million Snickers bars each day, and the reaction of the public has been proof of the power of the “Made in the USA” movement. The company has received nothing but shining media coverage: for keeping jobs in the U.S., from not outsourcing the production of some of America’s favorite candy brands such as M&M’s and Snickers, and for pursuing “Gold” certification for environmental sustainability of their new facility.



Food Labeling


In my food industry experience, I know that food labeling is a very important part of the process in designing a particular product. The ingredients sourced and the process taken from a concept to a finished good is rather complicated.


The cost factor plays a role in the design of a food product, and that is where food labeling and the outsourcing of the U.S. food supply is going to be the next big challenge for government regulation. We have begun to see evidence of that with the food industry groups fighting the passage of regulatory policies towards the disclosure of the country of origin on a variety of products.


The U.S. government remained steadfast in upholding the disclosure of the country of origin of certain ground beef and meat products this week, despite the heavy opposition of certain food industry lobbying and interest groups.


The outsourcing of American jobs and products is not a new concept. However, Kellogg found out this week that it is a concept that Americans have grown weary of, and have the public forums to voice that displeasure. In the end Kellogg will find out that greed always backfires.







Follow Up: Minimum Wage Increase & Jobs

In a follow up story to recent coverage on the topic of the minimum wage increase and its impact on employment, some positive news made headlines today. The Center for Economic and Policy Research issued a report that in 13 states where the minimum wage was increased, after two months of data, the number of jobs increased in those states.


These findings have caused the proponents of the minimum wage increase to basically say “I told you so”; and that it is evidence that the correlation between the slight increase in wages and a negative impact on jobs is a weak argument.


Conversely, the detractors have stated that this report is based on too short a sample window (two months) and that the increase in minimum wage will have a “ripple effect” on the rest of the economy and the overall jobs market.


In my home state, New Jersey, where this has been a very “hot button” issue, and where residents just approved a minimum wage hike which came into law in January, the employment numbers decreased slightly. This data could fuel the detractors of the minimum wage increase here in The Garden State.


However of the 13 states with the increased minimum wage, only New Jersey, Connecticut, and West Virginia had either decreased or flat job level changes. The sampling may be small, but the main message here is that the increase in the minimum wage is not the devastating blow to job creation that the detractors were making it out to be during the implementation of these changes in January.


Minimum Wage Workers

The report also provided some information on the minimum wage worker in the United States. The percentage of the work force making minimum wage is 3 percent, so this increase does not effect a huge group of the overall labor market.


However, the industry groups such as the National Restaurant Association, the large fast food chains, and other groups are still strongly against the increase in the minimum wage in states that have yet to make a change.


In my earlier writing on this subject, particularly on the fast food workers, I described the protests of the worker and their rallying cry “We can’t survive on $7.25” alluding to the current minimum wage in some states. I factored out that hourly wage to approximately $15,000.00 per year, and this report also notes that figure and ties it to the national poverty level figure of $22,282.00 for a family of four.


Many of these workers have dependents, and they also now have to pay into the exchanges for their own health care or family health care coverage. This is all very difficult to achieve on the current level of $7.25 or $7.40 per hour depending on what state you reside within.


Moving forward


This report is just the first of many that will be commissioned by the government, research groups, or other interested parties in this very controversial matter. The initial data shows that the increase in minimum wage levels had a more constructive overall impact on job creation than what was initially forecasted.


The overall issue moving forward I think is not to focus on the minimum wage effort, I think those workers deserve higher wages and I agree with the federal increase to the $10.00 per hour level. The bigger issue is the examination of much larger methods with regard to government regulation and corporate tax structures which could be revised to create a climate capable of fostering job growth across the rest of the labor market.


Increases in minimum wage jobs are great, but it is only representative of a very small amount of the work force. The American public, the government, and the business community should be much more concerned about job creation for the other 97% of the work force.


The Federal Reserve Chair, Janet Yellen, said this week, and I am paraphrasing, that the recovery of the U.S. economy still feels like a recession to the majority of Americans. That is where our focus should be and not on the increase of a few dollars per hour for a very small, but hard working segment of our work force.



(Statistics courtesy of The Center for Economic & Policy Research and CBS News. Additional financial market data and background information courtesy of The Wall Street Journal -www.wsj.com)