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  • Double Trouble
  • Cindy Hochman (bio)
Ghazals 1-59 and Other Poems
Sheila E. Murphy and Michelle Greenblatt
Unlikely Books
146 Pages; Print, $13.00

"Ghazal Two"

Cursive pages interlace two lives withPencil stem and pieces of human voice.

It is said that writing, particularly poetry-writing, is a solitary sport—but it doesn't necessarily have to be. Particularly at a time when long-distance (and even short-distance) internet correspondence is such an effective way for those in the poetic cyber-world to share their words, collaborations have flourished. In the two quoted lines above, the process of collaboration is neatly distilled to demonstrate its usefulness not only as an antidote to social estrangement and alienation but because it is probably the most generous way of crafting a poem: it requires listening as much as constructing, and it challenges poets to acknowledge and give credence to another voice while retaining their own. These elements are abundantly evident in Ghazals 1–59 and Other Poems, in which Sheila E. Murphy and the late Michelle Greenblatt fused their sizable talents to generate mood-conjuring, image-driven couplets that accomplish what great poetry should: creating a vast and impassioned linguistic banquet by combining sensory components, tinkering with syntax, and, especially in light of Ms. Greenblatt's untimely death, producing a redolent and bittersweet beauty.

"Ghazal Twenty-Six"

I plant dynamite in my poetry garden,And taller flowers resurrect a shattered silk.

Crayons copper colored melt along rear window ledgeMy poems have been fermenting on the paper's edge.

"Ghazal Thirty"

Gentle morning: milklight begins warmingCharred nighttime sleeps and slips away

An icicle-fragility hangs over the rooftopsAs inches of chalk potentially carve language there.

In Vincent A. Cellucci's insightful and important introduction to this volume, he lays out the guiding principle for the American poet's impetus to violate convention, opining that these poems forgo the repetition of end words that is the trademark of the ghazal in response to the world as it is: disordered and chaotic. Indeed, Greenblatt and Murphy have flouted form here, and yet the reader can readily see a balance between maverick and mainstream—the wildness is meticulous, fluid, and placid, and treads deftly within both the spheres of the material/concrete and the conceptual/ philosophical. The themes are idiosyncratic yet poetically familiar: nature and human nature infused with charged language, the artistic impulse, the political, and sadly prophetically, the body and its mortality (in this regard, the one-word configurations that appear throughout these poems, i.e., liquiddark, bombstain, dayscars, iceflood, moonslice, and rustpeel, take on a greater exigency). So, to Cellucci's point, on a number of levels there is a sentient sense of conscious liberation in these innovative, yet distinctly aesthetic, poems.

"Ghazal Eleven"

Skeletal kittens climb knotted black branches of trees,Ruining the first line of defense: unbroken skin.

Surfaces wear jewelry of dreaded bloodSkin so smooth on sacrificial boneclouds.

"Ghazal Fifteen"

People are uplifted by exquisite agonyRumored to replace elation that would trump such flaws.

Endorphins run the gamut from released to clottedSpreading through the body in thin veins and arteries.

"Ghazal Fifty-Nine"

War-torn, war-born policies plague the peopleWho are litmus maybe, who repair the wilds.

Parentheses, only a partial homeFor those threadbare words that belong nowhere.

Ice fissures and hissing flame become a partOf Indigence unpublicized, wrinkled ice.

Even for those of us who are familiar with the work of both of these poets, one would be hard-pressed to glean which lines were written by whom, so flawlessly do they harmonize, emanating electricity and flowing with finesse. These poems lie on the spectrum between the haunted dark and the joyous light, the gentle and the violent (Bruises on leaves covering the roof beside storm window / Leave obligatory black bodies and blue eyes on glass / Short list favors sparking reed lines with symmetry / While symmetry favors opposite bloodline). There is a furious whirlwind going on in each couplet, but inside the storm clouds there is also solitude—within the rhythmic eloquence of these poems, Murphy and Greenblatt give...


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