A Note On Form

In “Snow on the Desert” Ali does not use an established poetic form, but rather he builds his own. The poem is written primarily in unrhymed couplets with the third and sixth stanzas outlying as tercets. There are 39 stanzas, divided into three sections as indicated by the ellipses. Each section focuses on a different moment in time, yet the themes of the poem weave the sections together. Ali uses enjambment to draw the reader through the lines and the story they tell. The enjambment does not run through sections; rather, each section is end stopped to define it as a separate moment. The meter of the poem is loosely 4-5 iambic feet per line, although some lines contain an extra or are missing a syllable. In the first two sections the 4-5 feet are contained within one line, while in the third section the second line of the couplet is often (though not always) broken and continued as the last half of the first line of the following couplet. The expectation of 4-5 stresses in 4-5 feet per line is broken in the last section where the second line sometimes has two feet followed by a line with 2-3 feet. This shift in form may support the chaos of the moment and the unraveling of emotion that ensues during the third section of the poem.

While the form used in “Snow of the Desert” does not fit the conventions of a named poetic form, there are similarities to the ghazal form that may provide insight into the poem. The ghazal is a traditional Arabic poetic form that typically features five to fifteen rhyming couplets with each line consisting of the same meter. One line is established as the refrain and repeated in the second line of each couplet throughout the poem. Thematically the ghazal most often deals with topics of pain, loss and love.

“Snow on the Desert” includes features of this form, such as the couplets, though not rhymed, and the consistent meter. Moreover, the poem presents themes of loss and pain. In the third section of the poem, Ali writes about a performance by Begum Akhtar who is known for helping preserve the ghazal through her songs. Ali uses the ghazal form occasionally in later volumes, which may suggest that in “Snow of the Desert” Ali was first experimenting with the form. He also edited a volume of ghazals in English, Ravishing DisUnities: Real Ghazals in English, published in 2000. He then wrote his own collection of ghazals in English, Call Me Ishmael Tonight, published in 2004.

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