A Herstory Ghazal

History hurts women who weave word, sound and truth to brew story. 

Seen as lesser scribes, they fade from light. This ain’t a new story.

The house of Hip Hop belongs to all who live and love in it.

Divine residents build it brick by blessed beat through story.

From Godessa to Lee Kasumba, this black girl magic we

inhabit shatters each glass ceiling into debut story.

What’s a boys club to a god; to us? We birth worlds and verses

and rise to revise the lies and proclaim: this is true story!

Grateful for the glory of creation, Lebohang meets page.

In the beginning was the word. The world awaits. Cue: story.

— A Herstory Ghazal by Lebohang Masango

 

In “A Herstory Ghazal”, I use the upcoming #HipHopHerstory concert as a prompt to express my feelings on the creative power that most women hold, both biologically and artistically. The landmark event will host a selection of talents from South Africa and the US to celebrate women’s roles and achievements within the culture. While the introductory post to this series demonstrates multiple academic perspectives of women’s involvement in Hip Hop that appeal to my interests as a scholar, I use this week to continue that tradition of documentation in writing creatively, as a poet.

The ghazal honestly needs more flowers (while we can still smell ’em), which is to say, the ghazal is Top Two and I don’t mean number two. This underrated form of Arabic poetry has held me spellbound for a few years now. I find it so sad that I went through an entire high school career’s worth of poetry lessons, without encountering it among the usual classes about sonnets and iambic meter. When I first read Hip Hop Ghazal by Patricia Smith, my absolute fave, I was immediately delighted by the rhythms and its insistence on cleverly crafted repetition. I love how it has been a slow revelation; the more I savoured it, the more I realised how different parts have to exist in very particular ways to make it whole. It is an impressively simple-looking yet demanding piece of writing.

Read over my ghazal once more and see if you can identify the rules that dictate how a ghazal is constructed. Here is a short summary:

  1. Ghazal must consist of 5 – 15 couplets, that can each stand alone as separate poems.
  2. First two lines must end in rhyme – using the same word or phrase – this is called a refrain.
  3. The refrain should end the second line of every couplet that follows.
  4. Before each refrain, there has to be a word that rhymes consistently throughout the ghazal.
  5. The first line of the last couplet should contain the poets’s name, or a reference to the poet.
  6. Each line must contain the same number of syllables.

Do you see why I say it is not easy? It’s such a challenge! At the same time, I cannot explain how good it feels to know that when I apply myself, I too can write in one of my favourite forms. Today, my special contribution to the Hip Hop her story movement, also marks my second ghazal (ever!) and I am so excited that it exists. I love how writing this set a challenge for me to write a big story about the strides that women make each day and express it succinctly. I hope that you’ll be inspired to fall in love with the ghazal and to keep women’s stories well-recognised and alive in your own work, whatever it may be.

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Podcast: Poetry & Jazz

Photographed by Monique Stander. (I took my other ear stud out because it was hurting me with the earphones on.)

Last night, I was invited to SA FM’s The Mash Up, a show about poetry and music collaboration hosted by Naledi Moleo. When the producer of the show asked me which musician I would like to collaborate with, I immediately thought of Mpumi Dhlamini, a talented multi-instrumentalist and (fun fact) my uncle. Music is my go-to device in my work and it just made sense to be accompanied by an actual Jazz man.

I would say, “Mpumi this poem will be better with saxophone, like a Fela Kuti vibe” or “something Miles Davis-y” or he would just listen to the words and just start playing. The whole point of the show is to encourage spontaneous collaboration so, no rehearsal. Just a few words about the theme of the poem and sometimes, just starting with the poem and meeting in the middle.

I really enjoyed this experience. I usually get nervous about collaborating with musicians because it could easily throw me off but Mpumi and I clearly work great together. We have to do a show together or something one of these days. I mean, the host even said that our collaboration has been her favourite in the history of the show. What a compliment!

Below, the podcast has been split into parts and I think that’s great because you don’t have to hear adverts, news and cricket updates. Enjoy and let me know what you think.

Part one.

Part two.

Part three.

Part four.

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Thank you for the invitation, Monique Stander!