Zejel: Poetic Forms

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This will be the final Poetic Form Friday until May. We'll be a little busy poeming with the April PAD Challenge. Sooooo, let's take a look at zejel.

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Zejel Poems

The zejel is a very old Spanish poetic form that is also likely an even older Arabic poetic form with an origination date somewhere between the ninth and eleventh centuries. In fact, Edward Hirsch believes the form was probably invented by Mucaddam ben Muafa, a ninth century Hispano-Muslim poet.

Here are the basic rules for zejel:

  • First stanza is a tercet (3-line stanza) with an AAA rhyme scheme
  • All other stanzas are quatrains (4-line stanzas) with a XXXA rhyme scheme, so the second stanza would be BBBA, third CCCA, fourth DDDA, and so on to the end of the poem
  • Lines are usually 8 syllables long

Alternate version: The version above is from Robin Skelton, but Hirsch offers an alternate version that begins with a couplet rhymed AA, followed by the BBBA, CCCA, etc. Also, Hirsch's version makes the repeating A line a refrain from the opening couplet that could be shorter than the other lines (sort of like in a rondeau).

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Master Poetic Forms!

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Learn how to write sestina, shadorma, haiku, monotetra, golden shovel, and more with The Writer’s Digest Guide to Poetic Forms, by Robert Lee Brewer.

This e-book covers more than 40 poetic forms and shares examples to illustrate how each form works. Discover a new universe of poetic possibilities and apply it to your poetry today!

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Here’s my attempt at Zejel:

give me a reason, by Robert Lee Brewer

give me a reason to run out
& empty myself of this doubt
that always follows me about

give me a reason or a sign
to let me know you will be mine
& that we'll soon be intertwined
like two wet tongues inside one mouth

or clasping fingers of two hands
that hold because they understand
they both have needs & soft demands
that burn within & yearn without

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Robert Lee Brewer is Senior Content Editor of the Writer’s Digest Writing Community and author of Solving the World’s Problems (Press 53). When in doubt, he writes a love poem. Follow him on Twitter @RobertLeeBrewer.