Ghalib Speaks of His Poet Friends
All my life I’ve been amending their verses.
Now that I’m ill they write,
“You have not replied to my letter.” As if I
could make their couplets rhyme,
or rhyme slightly better.
Do they think I should live only
to correct their verses!
Shah Alam Sahib and Tufta, they’re peevish
to the end: they think my ill health
is a poetic exaggeration.
Without me they can versify or not versify;
it’s not for me to prod grown men
at the eleventh hour.
If I’ve lost my tact, I’ll offend them,
but all my life glad comments on loose verse
offended me. Now in pleasing myself,
I’ve lost the pleasure. But hell with these grudges
of the day, these small sentiments.
Let the newspapers print that I’m near death.
I’m not up to correcting the ghazals of a Tufta.
– Reetika Vazirani (1962-2003)
from The Antioch Review, Winter 1996, v. 54, no. 1
Note by Judith Hall
In 1995, I entered service as poetry editor of The Antioch Review. Much to my relief, my predecessor, David St. John, had already accepted poems for issues well into 1996. Vazirani’s is one of his I claim.
Her “Ghalib” is surely the 19th century poet who wrote in Urdu under that name. “Ghazal”, an intricate Arabic form, is probably familiar to BAP readers; the word also means, according to Agha Shahid Ali, “the cry of the gazelle when it is cornered in a hunt and knows it will die.” Form follows word here, and while a romantic editor would link this image to this poet. I will not. The complaints and witty tittle-tattle of Vazirani's Ghalib charm and need no justification.
For the next several weeks, I will be your Sunday editor, succeeding the estimable Bruce Covey in this role. I hope you will enjoy the Antioch poems coming your way.