Remember when poetry was “obscure”? Thanks to people like Mary Oliver,
Robert Pinsky, Jane Kenyon, just to name a few, poetry has drifted back to the
realm of the human. They and many others have reasserted the need for poetry
that is direct, honest, human, and (by and large) clear to the average reader.
But every once in a while, I miss the old days. Just when it seemed that poetry
was getting a little too humdrum, a little too prosy, Bly’s The Night
Abraham Called to the Stars appeared to bring back a little obscurity to
poetry, and with it, a huge dose of mystery.
Bly, fresh off his outstanding translations of the Urdu poet Ghalib (The
Lightning Should Have Fallen on Ghalib) adapted Ghalib’s poetic ghazel
form (pronounced “huzzle”)
and reinvented it for the English-speaking
reader. Each of these forty-eight poems contain six three-line stanzas, and
the final eight (all of part 5 of Bly’s book) even achieve the unity of
rhyme required by the original form. That is, the final word of each stanza
is the same.
What is unique about the ghazel is that each stanza strives to be a self-contained,
complete poem, not unlike a Korean sijo or a Japanese tanka. But in the ghazel,
the cumulative effect of the seemingly unrelated stanzas creates a resonance
that is hard to achieve any other way. The “intention” of each stanza
may be clear, but that is where the intention ends and the mystery begins. The
reader is invited to find creative connections between the stanzas and experience
words and ideas in new ways—through their suggestiveness.
This volume is one of the best among Bly’s growing corpus. It intrigues
and mystifies, but always satisfies as well. If you wonder what Rumi might sound
like in twenty-first century garb, pick up a copy of The Night Abraham Called
to the Stars.