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The name of a poet

Headshot of Sarah Ghazal Ali

Sarah Ghazal Ali ’21MFA graduated from UMass Amherst just over one year ago but is already making a name for herself in the poetry arena. To date she has published nearly 30 poems, essays, and interviews. Her first poetry collection, Theophanies, was selected by publisher Alice James Books as an Editor’s Choice for its 2022 Alice James Award and will be published in January 2024. 

With the middle name “Ghazal,” Ali’s vocation seems almost predestined. The ghazal is a complex Arabic poetic form with features such as grammatically complete couplets, an intricate rhyme scheme, and a repeating end word on each couplet. Here is one example from Ali, first published in Memorious Journal.

Partition Ghazal

          everyone carries his address in his pocket 
          so that at least his body will reach home

                      —Agha Shahid Ali 

there from once-claimed land buds a sudden country. 
unsurprising, as every tale is the tale of your country. 

a man tracing his lazy finger down a map, one hand 
perforating a body—pulling from it a country.  

which do you claim? where are you unseen
among the people of this or that country? 

your father’s father watches from the walls, a man not 
unlike any partridge falling from its sky of no country.

he fell silent and hateful, hastily married off to numb 
the rift with the peculiar heat of a woman’s country.  

& Moses parted—but only sea. this chasm light seeps 
through, this sunless path to a discarnate country. 

& your father’s mother? too young to tend a landless man 
with no space behind bone for her, only his lost country. 

blasphemous how one begets many. father, father, daughter. 
& your mother? miraculous origin—the one safe country. 

when they ask, Ghazal, if you anger, recite again: men 
turn from the wind for the anthem of a new country.

To learn more about this style of poetry and Ali’s relationship with it, check out her recent essay in Poetry magazine.