Eastern Structures

Official Website of the English-language Journal of Asian Poetry Forms

R. W. Watkins, Ed.
Jim Wilson and Bill West, Creative Consultants
L. J. McDowall and Clark Strand, Contributing Editors

Greetings, and welcome to the official website of what is currently the world’s only journal dedicated to publishing and critiquing a mélange of Asian poetic forms.


The ninth and most recent issue of Eastern Structures was published in March of 2019, and features the poetry of Steffen Horstmann, Mohammad Zahid, Eugene A. Melino, Pat Geyer, Chi Holder, Edward Baranosky, Priscilla Lignori, James Lignori, Sean Lynch, I. S. Kipp, Charles Kramer, Odin H. Halvorson, B. J. Wells, William Dennis, and several others. It also includes the essays ‘Getting to Know the Ghazal’ by Norma Jenckes and ‘The Noun Clause in Formal Haiku’ by Jim Wilson.

The eighth issue of Eastern Structures was published in October of 2018, and features the poetry of Mace Hosseini, Mohammad Zahid, Chidananda Sali, Denver Butson, Christopher Mooney-Singh, Norma Jenckes, Edward Baranosky, Priscilla Lignori, Steve Denehan, Mark Redfearn, Nancy Rullo, Ann Hills, and several others. It also includes ‘Prohibitions and Marginalizations’ (Four Short Essays) by Jim Wilson, focussing on the groundless dogmas inherent in contemporary mainstream haiku

The seventh issue of Eastern Structures was published in September of 2018, and features the poetry of Christopher Mooney-Singh, Mace Hosseini, William Dennis, Liùsaidh (L. J. McDowall), Pat Geyer, Bill West, Daniel Hales, Cherilynn Mai, Priscilla Lignori, Clark Strand, Mitchell Grabois, Lance Nizami, and several others. It also includes the second part of Jim Wilson’s essay, ‘Instantiating Syllabics from Japanese to English’, focussing on formally constructed English-language tanka. 

The sixth issue of Eastern Structures was published in April of 2018, and features the poetry of Denver Butson, Norma Jenckes, John Philip Drury, Daniel Hales, Mace Hosseini, Tamara K. Walker, Priscilla Lignori, James Lignori, Mark Redfearn, Nancy Rullo, Anne Hills, and several others. It also includes the essay ‘Instantiating Syllabics from Japanese to English’ by Jim Wilson. 


(click here to purchase No. 6 online)

The fifth issue of Eastern Structures was published in early December of 2017, and features the poetry of Denver Butson, John Philip Drury, Mark Redfearn, Priscilla Lignori, James Lignori, R. W. Watkins, Tamara K. Walker, Anne Hills, Gareth Writer-Davies, and several others. Also featured is the third in a series of essays on the sijo by L. J. McDowall, and an introductory essay on the Cambodian pathya vat form by Bob Newman. 

(click here to purchase No. 5 online)


Also published in December of 2017 was the omnibus, The Complete Eastern Structures / Volume One, which collects the first five issues in one handy 8.5" × 11" volume. At 180 pages in length, this collection is ideal for the Creative Writing professor who wishes to introduce his or her students to a multitude of Asian verse forms in a comparative context.  

(click here to purchase The Complete Eastern Structures / Vol. One online)


The fourth issue of Eastern Structures was published in October of 2017, and features the poetry of Steffen Horstmann, Eric Torgersen, Mindy Watson, Liùsaidh (L. J. McDowall), Chi Holder, Pat Geyer, Nancy Rullo, Mark Redfearn, Priscilla Lignori, James Lignori, William Dennis and Lance Nizami. It also features the literary essays of R. W. Watkins and L. J. McDowall. 

(click here to purchase No. 4 online)

The third issue of Eastern Structures was published in May of 2017, and features the poetry of Steffen Horstmann, Eugene A. Melino, Sunil Uniyal, Norma Jenckes, Eric Torgersen, Liùsaidh (L. J. McDowall), Mindy Watson, William Dennis, Sue Burke, Chi Holder, Pat Geyer, Priscilla Lignori, Clark Strand, Craig W. Steele, Lance Nizami and Bill West. It also features the literary essays of R. W. Watkins, Jim Wilson, R. K. Singh and L. J. McDowall.


(click here to purchase No. 3 online)

The sophomore issue of Eastern Structures was published in October of 2016, and features the poetry of Eric Torgersen, Denver Butson, William Dennis, Steffen Horstmann, Liùsaidh (L. J. McDowall), Priscilla Lignori, Norma Jenckes, Clark Strand, Bill West, Chi Holder, Craig W. Steele, Lance Nizami and M. K. Punky (Michael Konik); and the literary essays of Clark Strand and Jim Wilson.

(click here to purchase No. 2 online)


Picking up where editor R. W. Watkins’s Contemporary Ghazals left off, the premier issue of Eastern Structures was published in April of 2016. No. 1 features ghazals by the likes of Denver Butson, Steffen Horstmann and William Dennis; Korean sijo by Bill West and Liùsaidh (L. J. McDowall); Japanese haiku and tanka by such accomplished practitioners as Clark Strand, Priscilla Lignori and Jim Wilson; and essays by Wilson and Watkins.

Eastern Structures No. 10 is slated for a Late Spring 2019 publication, and submissions of dynamically correct ghazals, sijo, haiku, tanka, renga and other Japanese forms are certainly welcome for consideration. Submissions may be sent to the editor at nocturnaliris@gmail.com. Submissions are read immediately upon an email’s opening, and there is nothing as unnecessary and capricious as a deadline in effect. More detailed submission guidelines can be found here.


We would advise, of course, that potential contributors make themselves familiar with the style and protocols of the magazine by purchasing and reading a copy. Such commerce also provides the financial and emotional incentives necessary for the magazine’s survival. Too many fine journals have fallen to the axe in the wake of the Internet and the ‘freebie culture’ that has subsequently arisen. Copies of No. 1 can be obtained at Amazon and CreateSpace.


Some Basic Points about the Ghazal Form

The ghazal (pronounced ghuzzle — the gh drawn almost silently from deep within the throat) is a structured poem traditionally confined to the Islamic world and Indian subcontinent, where it has thrived — and continues to thrive — both as written verse and lyrical verse. The word ‘ghazal’ is of Arabic origin, and literally means ‘talking to women’. This is neither surprising nor inappropriate when one considers that the stereotypic dusky, exotic woman of the Near East, and the romantic longing for her, is one of the form’s most popular and enduring motifs, alongside wine and Sufi mysticism. Such major themes have been explored most exquisitely over the centuries by such principal poets as Attar, Rumi and Hafiz in Farsi; Ibn al-Farid in Arabic; and Ghalib and Faiz in Urdu.

The ghazal’s origins can be traced to seventh century Arabia, where it evolved out of the nasib — the introductory section of another poetic form, the qasida.

In the following centuries, the ghazal spread as Islam spread: into the Indian subcontinent, throughout parts of Eastern Europe, and eventually into Spain, where the form was also adopted by Jews writing secular verse.  In each case, the poetry was composed in the language native to its new setting, hence its (relatively) early availability in a wide range of languages subsequent to Arabic: Farsi, Urdu, Hindi, Turkish, Hebrew, etc.

Eventually, the ghazal began to be explored by ‘name’ poets and linguistic and ethnic groups more synonymous with the (so-called) Western World: Goethe, Rückert, Lorca; German, Spanish, and English — sort of. As Agha Shahid Ali has pointed out, the ghazal never exactly got off to a shining start in the language of Shakespeare, Blake and Coleridge. Early attempts by James Clarence Mangan and (especially) James Elroy Flecker seem to be little more than novel experiments in passing, and obviously owe a lot to early English translations from the Farsi by R. A. Nicholson — particularly that of Rumi’s Divani Shamsi Tabriz (Cambridge, 1898). Probably as a result, the English ghazal appears to have been rendered extinct by the second quarter of the twentieth century, and, aside from a few ‘free-verse’ experiments (i.e., featuring preservation of the couplets tenet only) — of which, Adrienne Rich’s and Phyllis Webb’s are probably the most well-known — it would remain that way until the late 1980s / early 1990s, when poets such as John Hollander and Elise Paschen would begin its reintroduction. 

To re/introduce a poetic form properly, one must first be familiar with its proper tenets — a prerequisite which eluded the ghazal in the West for close to sixty years. The situation only changed in the mid 1990s, when the Kashmiri-born, oft-mentioned Agha Shahid Ali — inspired by the aforementioned Hollander — published a ‘wakeup’ article, ‘Transparently Invisible: An Invitation from the Real Ghazal’ (Poetry Pilot: The Newsletter of the Academy of American Poets / Winter, 1995—96). In the article, he outlined the principles of the ghazal’s Persian model, and called for English-language adherence to them. Soon after, excerpts from the article were republished in Jane Reichhold’s journal, Lynx (where Gene Doty had already questioned his own status as a ‘free-verse’ ghazal poet, and suggested a ‘parasyntactic’ rhyme scheme for the form), and other poets — of Asian descent and otherwise — began publishing essays (mostly) reaffirming Ali’s outline. The result was an immediate outpouring of first attempts from poets across the US (and at least one from Canada!), prompting the Fall 2000 publication of Ali’s anthology, Ravishing DisUnities: Real Ghazals in English.

At this point, the reader is no doubt asking, So what exactly constitutes a Real Ghazal? As I’ve already implied, there are somewhat different versions of the form that have evolved in its traditional Muslim / Indian-subcontinent context alone. For now, let me concentrate upon the model most extolled and promoted by Ali.

The Persian ghazal consists in a series of couplets (traditionally, from a minimum of five to a maximum of twelve) of equal metrical and/or syllabic length. These couplets are sometimes referred to in Urdu as shers. There are never any enjambments between the couplets, and each should (ideally) be able to stand as its own independent poem — the first line presenting a dilemma or question that is resolved (often ironically and/or humourously) in the second. According to Ali, a ghazal that is ‘continuous’ — i.e., one which follows a storyline or establishes a blatantly specific theme throughout the couplets, but does not succumb to enjambments — is known as a qata.

The couplets’ requirements of identical length and autonomy are complemented by their even more unique requirements of both exact and approximate repetition. Both lines of the first couplet (referred to as the matla in the traditional Farsi and Urdu contexts) and the second line of each following couplet feature the same word or phrase coming at the end. This practice is known as radif. In addition, both lines of the first couplet and the second line of each following couplet feature the same internal rhyme, located immediately before the radif. This attribute is known as qafia (sometimes written as qaafiya or kaafiya). Thirdly, the poet may choose to ‘personalise’ the ghazal by quoting his or her name (or, more often, nickname) in the final couplet. This practice is referred to as makhta, and is now considered only optional in this modern (post-modern?) context — at least in light of the views expressed by most Eastern poets, including Ali and Hemant Kulkarni (see Kulkarni’s ‘The Philosophy of Ghazals’, Lynx, Vol. XII: No. 2; June, 1997).

An outline of the form’s attributes within the context of excerpts from an actual ghazal*, with red denoting qafia, yellow denoting radif, and green denoting the makhta:

What will suffice for a true-love knotEven the rain?

But he has bought grief’s lottery, bought even the rain. 

After we died—That was it!—God left us in the dark

And as we forgot the dark, we forgot even the rain.

They’ve found the knife that killed you, but whose prints are these?

No one has such small hands, Shahidnot even the rain.

*‘Ghazal’ by Agha Shahid Ali; originally published in Rooms Are Never Finished (W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.). Copyright © 2002 by Agha Shahid Ali. Also included in Contemporary Ghazals No. 2.

(Note: the early Arabic version of the ghazal features a qafia but no radif. Both lines of the first couplet and the second line of each following couplet end in a monorhyme. It should be pointed out, however, that this variation has not been strictly limited to Arabic writers, and has been utilised by poets writing in Farsi, Urdu and other languages to this day.)

As for the question of ghazal subject matter in an English-language context, Indian and/or Muslim authors tend to be lenient in this area as well. “I see no reason for any thematic restrictions on the ghazal,” writes Kulkarni in the ‘Concluding Remarks’ of his aforementioned article. He also points out that contemporary motifs such as Freedom (in the face of the British Empire/Commonwealth) and Political Ineptness have competed with such classic motifs as Wine and Romantic Longing at various times in India’s past. Also, Ahmed Ali — as Agha Shahid Ali has pointed out — has maintained that the ghazal has a “dedication to love and the beloved. At the same time, the form permits, in the best Persian and Urdu practice, delineation of all human activity and affairs from the trivial to the most serious” (Ali, The Golden Tradition [New York: Columbia University Press, 1973], as cited in the introduction to Ravishing DisUnities, ed. by Agha Shahid Ali [Hanover: Wesleyan University Press, 2000], p. 3).

(Condensed section from the Introduction to Contemporary Ghazals: An Anthology, 2014)

Some Examples of the Form: 


Barbara Little

Ship aground, etched in unpitying sepia tones

captures history in vanishing sepia tones.

A family stores memory in photographs,

leaving each generation questioning sepia tones.

My pirate grandfathers, long ago gentrified,

resist my restless ransoming sepia tones.

Who have we been and where are we going?

Abandoning and gathering sepia tones.

Witness the revival of an antiquated hue:

walking daily more slowly, practicing sepia tones.

I am soaked in primary disingenuous colors,

wishing for little comforting sepia tones.

(from Contemporary Ghazals No. 1)

Absences assume shadows

Steffen Horstmann

Absences assume shadows that graze in the outer dark.

Faces float in mists, a zephyr sways in the outer dark.

Hypnotic rain falls in spirals, pavements thrum

As you mull in a daze in the outer dark.

Crickets tick to sparks flaring in grasses, dust wavers

With the crackling of a blaze in the outer dark.

Waves splash stones off the jetty, a palm tree dances

With its shadow as it sways in the outer dark.

Through latticed smoke phantasms shimmer

Like an auroral blaze in the outer dark.

Dense ivy sprawls over desiccated hedgerows

That once formed a maze in the outer dark.

In a pond’s mist a geisha’s ghost bows, you lean

To hear what her whisper conveys in the outer dark.

On the temple grounds breezes chant koans

As a bodhisattva prays in the outer dark.

Wraiths formed of smoke are lit by sparks

A roiling pyre sprays in the outer dark.

The stone tombs of ascetics shelter winds

That rave of forays in the outer dark.

(from Contemporary Ghazals No. 4)

Lost Without an Eighteenth Chapter

(for J. V.)

R. W. Watkins

A dim star Down Under clings to life with aspiration lost;

in the time of slackers, grunge and noise, in deep sedation, lost.

In the golden age of rock ’n’ roll, beneath the Southern Cross,

she was born amongst the dispossessed—their sense of nation lost.

In a work of fiction fused with fact, she’s drawn up Hanging Rock;

through the boulder arches, clouds and light, and to temptation, lost.

On a tropic island trapped in time, she’ll dwell forever young

with the other shipwrecked student youths—for the duration, lost.

In a darkened valley bides her kind, the Boom’s forgotten half;

beneath the summits of Love and X, a ‘generation’ lost.

In the midst of marriage comes a blow, a diagnosis dire.

A battle begins upon her breast—all jubilation lost.

Her imperfect body yields and falls to fierce mutated cells.

She surrenders beauty, breath and fame—in isolation, lost.

(from Contemporary Ghazals No. 4)

at first it seems like summer dying there

(first line by Weldon Kees)

Denver Butson

at first it seems like summer dying there

then we notice the sausages drying there

we follow the gypsy signs the bouquets

the smell of onions frying there

make no mistake she had always wanted this

to be drowning rather than just lying there

you say your goodbyes do your little salutes

you leave behind those who are still crying there

if I ever get to Denver I’ll remember your buttons

your snaps the knots you kept untying there

(from Contemporary Ghazals No. 3)

The following is an example of the qafia-only Arabic style:

Ghazal: I Will Not Refrain

Hafez (c. 1320—1389)

Adapted by R. W. Watkins

From loving wine and my friend, I will not refrain.

Scores of times I’ve repented, but will never again.

Eden, the Tree of Knowledge, and even virgins divine

can’t compare with the dirt from a friend’s dusty lane.

Learning’s lectures and studies offer only a hint

—just a word in your ear; I shan’t repeat it in vain.

Of what abounds in my mind, I’m never aware

—’til it’s over all heads in the saki’s domain.

A teacher said snidely, “Cease loving, desist”.

There’s no need to row, brother—I just won’t abstain!

This measure of virtue for me shall suffice

—that I don’t flirt from the pulpit with the fair and urbane.

The living guide, Hafez, grant’s genuine wealth.

From kissing dirt under such feet, I shall never refrain.

(from Contemporary Ghazals No. 4)

Some Basic Points about the Sijo Form

According to Larry Gross, who published and co-edited five issues of Sijo West in the mid to late 1990s, sijo refers to “an ancient Korean verse form traditionally containing three lines of 14 to 16 syllables each, for a total of 44 to 46. It resembles haiku in having a strong foundation in nature and in even more ancient Chinese patterns, but its unique characteristics and flavor distinguish it from all other poetry genres.”

The first line of a sijo poem introduces a situation or problem. Development of this plot or concept occurs in the second line, and is sometimes referred to as a turn. The third line contains what may be described as a surprise or twist ending, and provides resolution or closure to the issues raised in the first two lines.

Korean poetry, according to Dr. Gross, was being written as early as 17 BC, when King Yuri’s Song of Yellow Birds was composed; but its roots can be found in earlier Chinese quatrains. Sijo, Korea’s most popular poetic genre, is “often traced to Confucian monks of the eleventh century, but its roots, too, are in those earlier forms.”

The work of 17th century poet Yun Sŏn-do (1587–1671) is generally regarded not only as the finest examples of the sijo form, but of Korean poetry in general; e.g:

You ask how many friends I have? Water and stone, bamboo and pine.

The moon rising over the eastern hill is a joyful comrade.

Besides these five companions, what other pleasure should I ask?

Each of the sijo’s three lines is ‘broken’ approximately in the middle with a sort of caesura, although not one resulting from metrics. Each half-line contains six to nine syllables, with the latter half of the third line sometimes being slightly shorter. Owing supposedly to “modern printing limitations”, many English-language sijo over the past two decades have been printed in six lines, the enjambment occurring at the caesura. Such reformatting has produced mixed results. (Sources: Sijo West No. 1 [1995] and the Wordshop website)

A concise glossary of Japanese poetry forms and terms can be found at the AHA Poetry website.

Watch this space....

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