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The title–An Audience of One–first refers to God as the audience, the auditor; then, there is a second reference to the reader who enunciates the ghazals syllable by syllable, enacting the dance of the poem. This one–the human one–stands (or kneels or prostrates) before the One. The ghazals are the voice of the one to the One.
Here’s a comment on reading ghazals (and other poetry) that are written from a faith different from one’s one.
The poems in this collection are ordered by the hours of prayer, both mandatory and voluntary in Islam, an ordering that puts the ghazals into context of devotion, piety, and wonder before the One.
This collection of 20+ poems sets a high standard for ghazals in English. They are traditional in form and content, with an excellent use of radif and qafiya.
An Audience of One has many delights in it, each delight equal to the others, rather like radif and qafiya in a carefully made ghazal. Those who read it will gain in understanding of Islam, of the ghazal as a form in English, and in getting acquainted with Shahzadah (Majid’s takhallus: Farsi for Prince).
Nineteen watercolor paintings illuminate the poems. The paintings complement the ghazals beautifully. All but two are by Meraj Mohiuddin; the others are by Noera Ayaz. The imagery ranges from architecture (The Dome of the Rock, for example) to landscape (the Atlas Mountains) from a ring to pottery, ceramics, and a still-life. There’s also a striking piece of calligraphy. As with the introduction and the glossary, the illustrations have their own value independent of the poems. The whole book is well-designed, each part contributing fully to the overall effect.
Introduction to The Ghazal
Majid’s introduction (based on work by K. C. Kanda) provides a brief history and a clear explanation of the form. The introduction is also good on the theme of love, both human and divine. If you read nothing but the introduction, your understanding of the ghazal would be enriched. (Of course, you would have missed the riches of the poems themselves.)
The following quotation from the introduction stays the poet’s view clearly:
“In my view, the ghazal represents the best of two creative elements: the couplets themselves combine the flexibility of free verse with the demands of a necessary rhyme scheme of the radif and kaafiya.”
The glossary a the end of An Audience of One is comprehensive; the definitions include the technical terms associated with the ghazal, the hours of prayer, place-names, various historical characters, and other terms that are part of the cultural context of the ghazal. The glossary is very useful and well-done. It not only aids the reader by identifying references in the poems but by providing a wide-ranging set of terms relevant to the ghazal.
The preface places poetry in context of, and submission to, the Qur’an: Majid sees poetry as prayer and as subordinate to the truths of his faith. However, these ghazals are not expressions of dogma. They are expressions of faith, of prayer, leading to ecstacy, as in the first ghazal, in the section “Iqama.” Both poet and reader are called to prayer, which is essentially a call to “dance in ecstacy.”
Iqama (brief call to prayer)
This ghazal expresses Majid’s reason for writing poetry:
Reader! I ask you to please dance in ecstasy!
Whirling round, all the Sufis dance in ecstasy . . .
The poem sings of the universal dance of ecstasy, a dance including galaxies, planets, humans, dolphins, bees, leaves; there’s even room for armies and secretive loves– “Sad eyes full of secrecies dance in ecstasy”–and the ghazal itself becomes an ecstatic dance.
There’s tension in the ghazal, freedom yet restraint–
Shers love-drunk with mysteries dance in ecstacy.
And the whole dances under “what Allah decrees–,” an acceptance, a submission that leads to freedom:
This carefree Pen can dance with ease, dance in ecstasy.
This opening ghazal is Majid’s ars poetica, setting a high note for the ghazals to follow.
These ghazals dance through the prayers of the day, dance delicately on strong radif and qafiya.
Perhaps the best way to suggest the quality of An Audience of One and to pique your interest in the poems is to list the radifs from each ghazal.
Radifs from An Audience of One:
dance in ecstacy the Call unseen Allah, Allah an audience of One
for thee to Him we will return sinful deeds in life of yore
forever more in this is a Sign the Garden love the candle
to Him this solitude of love, O Love once I am gone that Day
The variety of forms of the radifs (from single words to clauses) helps create the strength of these poems. Note that the personal pronouns, “thee” and “him” are capitalized or in lower-case according to their references, human or divine. You will find the same variet in the qafiyas.
The ghazals sometimes rhyme the first line of the shers (after the matla) with the radif in the second. An example is “of yore,” from the section Asr (the required late afternoon prayer). Here is the sixth (of seven) sher:
Above the mountains like eagles, our spirits once soared,
Now our foresight is locked in rusty cages of yore.
And here is another example, from “the Garden” in Maghrib, (a required prayer after sunset). This is the makhta:
Shahzadah chirps a lilting tune before our hearts can harden;
He’s not a strutting peacock, but a sparrow in the Garden.
The sparrow is a bird often found in modern poetry and seems a natural inhabitant of the Garden.
An Audience of One is a strong collection of ghazals original in English that any of us serious about the ghazal should read.
BILL BATCHER is a native of Long Island, New York. After graduating from the New York City Public Schools, he received a Bachelors from Syracuse University, where he majored in English. Bill earned two Masters degrees from Teachers College, Columbia University, New York where, in 1992 he was a awarded a doctorate in the area of education of the gifted.
MAJID MOHIUDDIN resides in Boston, MA and has published a book of ghazals written in English, titled An Audience of One. He graduated from Brown University and is currently studying at Harvard. He is the recipient of the NJ Governor’s Award in the Arts and Education. You can order the book and see a vision statement at this page or visit Amazon.com for book reviews in addition.