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    Poetic Form: Qasida (Guest Post by Ren Powell)

    Categories: Guest Posts, How to Write Poetry, Writing Poetry, Poetic Forms, Poets Helping Poets.

    Please welcome Ren Powell, whose most recent book is Mercy Island, New and Selected Poems–available through Phoenicia Publishing or Amazon. She is an associate editor with Poemeleon and blogs at http://tribeofmadorphans.com. In the following post, she introduces us to the poetic form called qasida.



    While I was putting together my
    research proposal for the doctorate I was also working with PEN and the International Cities of Refuge Network. Part of my job
    was to help promote the work of the writers being hosted by our cities. One
    problem I was not understanding the aesthetics of Arab or African or Asian
    poetics. The original aim of my doctorate studies was
    to challenge my personal aesthetics by studying and experimenting with various
    traditions outside my comfort zone. However, my “travels” both began and ended
    in pre-Islamic Arabia because I became
    fascinated with the ancient qasida.

    Described concisely, the
    classical qasida is a non-strophic, tripartite poem employing 50 to 120
    hemstitch lines, monorhyme and quantitative meter with a tripartite sequence of
    thematic modules. However, I found the non-mathematical, yet
    still distinctive characteristics of the qasida much more interesting.

    limited to translations and theoretical interpretations of the original poems,
    and inevitably (and unapologetically) influenced by my own cultural points of
    reference, I spent the first year of my studies experimenting with my
    perceptions of qasida-like usage of diction and intertextual dependence.

    For example, similar to
    kennings, they used adjectives in place of nouns: strutting in place of
    ostrich. They used telescoping metaphors that were so much fun to work with:


    And this


    smooth-stiff coat of newborn

    morning wet
    clings to a neigh
    The broad
    touch of maple leaves
    falls on my
               russet coaxing

    “Mingo Oak”)

    He left a
    razor in the soap dish
              a slick

              a festering

              a red and white exit sign

    (“Denouement” from An Intimate Retribution.)

    I also
    experimented with the narrative structure of the preliterate qasida.
    the Greek ode, the qasida is divided into three parts. However, the
    interrelated strophe, antistrophe and epode of the Greek ode do not correspond
    to the three independent thematic sections of the qasida: the nasib, rahil and
    fakrh. According to Suzanne Pinckney Stetkevych, the author
    of The Mute Immortals Speak, the
    classical qasida’s structure is similar to the Jungian “Hero’s Quest”:

    1. The
      nasib is a moment of separation and
      typically depicts a symbolic recognition of the “other”, which prompts the
      persona into a state of agitation.
    2. The rahil is a moment of margin and depicts a liminal state
      characterized by anti-social behavior.
    3. Finally, the fakrh is a moment
      of aggregation and depicts a scene of
      integration with the community.

    S. Stetkevych explains that the
    qasida’s narrative is a rite of passage, a transformative experience shared by
    the persona, performer and audience.

    Although some modern and contemporary Western poets have
    written poems they call qasidas, few if any of these poems bear any resemblance
    to the pre-Islamic qasida. The ghazal, on the other hand, is a derivative of
    the qasida’s nasib and has been
    popular among Western poets in recent years. No doubt this is due to the
    quality described as “disunity”, a reliance on associative leaps into a realm
    of recognition and understanding that Keats might have assigned to our
    “negative capability” to simply be in
    the Mystery.

    According to the contemporary
    Syrian poet Adonis, the author of An
    Introduction to Arab Poetics
    , the form of the qasida was deliberately
    developed to teach Arabness at a time
    when the culture was resisting Persian, Syriac and Indian influences. One could
    argue that the pre-Islamic qasida was, in fact, consciously designed to defy
    translation or adaptation.

    For this reason, I make no claims
    of having created a true adaptation of the qasida. However, I have been
    inspired by, borrowed and purposefully distorted some of the poetic devices
    that characterize the ancient form. I figure my qasidas resemble the original
    as much as the word when I pronounce it resembles the word when spoken by an
    Arab speaker. I am well intentioned and respectful… and inspired. Maybe a
    closer look at the ancient form will inspire you, too. I highly recommend both Suzanne Pinckney Stetkevych’s book and Jaroslav Stetkevych’s The Zephyrs of Najid.

    My new book, just published by Phoenicia Publishing contains
    four American qasidas: “Inner Space Qasidah”, “Bakersfield”,
    “Mingo Oak” and the title poem “Mercy
    Island” (which, by all
    rights might be called a Norwegian qasida).

    First published in Country Dog Review,
    An Intimate Retribution (Wigestrand
    Press) and Mercy Island, New and Selected Poems
    (Phoenicia Publishing):

    Space Qasidah

    I can see that nothing is solid, no matter how it appears.
    from the “atomobile” script for Adventures Thru Inner Space, Disneyland,

    Tomorrowland has new attractions
    though everything is still a shiny plastic

    with sticky finger touch and mouth and
    and handrails hot then cold through
    every shadow

    That day I stood beside the
    and watched the people in the plastic

    as some climbed out and others took
    their places
    the cars would spin but never stop or

    Like luggage on a banded carousel
    the people disappeared behind a wall

    but reappeared inside a glass-like
    that tapered into shrinking into

    Because is not a reason, but it is
    Just am is blue like woozy
    boat-fishing scared

    my sister sat alone inside a car
    a gust of air conditioning took her

    The ticket-taker pointed to the tube
    and winked No one really shrinks, you

    then Mickey Mouse led me to the exit
    to see my sister’s five-foot five all
    still there

    It’s okay, Chicken my sister pinched
    my nose
    she’d seen the wrong-way through a

    an enormous eye was looking back at
    her every cell the spaces in between

    It’s not a long drive from Disneyland
    to home but still we had to stop for

    the attendant  pulled the squeegee over the window
    he smiled—my every atom jumped orbit.

    My sister’s key ring had a rabbit’s
    my fourth-grade science teacher knows

    I know the human body is too fluid
    I hold these truths to be


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    About Robert Lee Brewer

    Senior Content Editor, Writer's Digest Community.

    27 Responses to Poetic Form: Qasida (Guest Post by Ren Powell)

    1. renkat says:

      Thanks for the opportunity, Robert! – and how great to see people diving in and experimenting!

    2. I just wanted to throw in an extra thanks to Ren. Both for the post and the follow up in the comments. Great stuff!

    3. blood flowing, nerves screaming
      it’s time to get-outta-here
      or sink into the collusion
      neither is acceptable
      let’s kiss and say goodbye
      then swearing and screeching
      rubber and a whole new life
      first of grief; then “oh-shit-ness”
      why-you-did-why-I rounds
      to be made til they are not
      don’t ever . . .

    4. I too had to go look up some terms (before I saw the translation) – I’m enchanted by the concept and am picking this up as a style to explore – fore cxample, tried to apply it to a description of my greenhouse in this fragment -

      beyond the season (qasida)

      sturdy and sunlit
      steam crawling the walls
      to drip triumphantly
      on the plants, the
      wind-hole ajar
      free radicles popping
      in jars and baskets
      have faith that all this grows -
      but in case of burning summer
      bring more water


    5. Taylor Graham says:

      Here’s a try. I have no idea if it’s a qasida….


      I looked for you in the lilac’s leaves, green
      as hanging hearts, their blossoms withered, gone.

      All I saw were men in shorts and straw hats,
      ladies in kimonos crimson as dawn.

      The Taiko drums beat loud enough to rouse
      grave-spirits, their pulse so deep, so long-drawn.

      Home is always another place and time,
      annual grasses dried, brittle to the awn.

      I wouldn’t stay to follow shadows down
      among the crowds that scuff a tattered lawn.

      The mulberry still knows your name, your face
      as in the pond reflected, now, a fawn.

    6. Francesco Sinibaldi says:

      The wind blowing in the sun.

      In the chirping
      of a delicate
      bird there’s a
      light that always
      shines near
      the sound of
      a quietness, it’s
      the tender relief
      now recalling
      the youth.

      Francesco Sinibaldi

    7. renkat says:

      Yes, Sam, I agree about the haiku thing. Many English-language writers who consider themselves experts on the form don’t know that the Japanese language doesn’t even have syllables to count 5*7*5 in the form. It is a rather arbitrary adaptation.

      Suzanne Pinckney Stetkevych’s book has very careful translations of a few qasidas. Desmond O’Grady has written what he calls "renderings", which is a very respectful admission that the poems can’t ever be faithfully translated, but it gives you an indication of the narrative (but not the kinds of poetic tools like the intertextuality or special use of metaphors). http://www.amazon.com/Golden-Odes-Love-English-Rendering/dp/9774244613

      If I can take the liberty of claiming this – I have seen a poetry video that I believe really has the spirit of the qasida – this is in praise of another person (the King of Dubai) though, where the original qasidas would be more like a rapper boasting about his own greatness :-) I saw this video and thought – ah, this is what I have been reading about, and I contacted two of my friends who have educations in Arabic poetry and they agreed with me that this does have much of the hallmarks of a classical qasida: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XEV1IsTPP9o

      If nothing else, it is a beautiful video to watch!

    8. Taylor Graham says:

      I agree, we need more examples in English.

    9. Sam Nielson says:

      I was going to post early this morning, but never got back to it. I hope I am not speaking too far into where I know little. Just a few thoughts.

      I am intrigued by the idea of a qasida. Like many other forms, it seems to be one that grew out of a necessity of living life and understanding life. Its basic parts, the meter, the writing it down in seemingly two columns, etc all seem to point to a necessity of purpose. (We do it this way because. . . . )

      Of course there are many poetic forms that are simply academic constructions, valid, fun to play with, but are not rooted so closely in life this same way. I appreciated your comments about tying it in with the culture, so the cultural background becomes a help in writing and understanding it. I would guess that the form had many years, or centuries to develop. I bet haiku is also in that way, but now mostly written in a lesser vein, not having all that cultural import behind it. I am guilty of stressing the form that way.

      I think I would need to see a quite number more examples of qasida to get a better sense of where/how they go.

      Thank you Ren Powell. Nice to see you. Make us stretch some more.

      I would like to see some academic bits that perhaps make us look closer at some tenets of classical forms, e.g. strophe-antistrophe like the Greeks, etc. We tend to overlook some of the early stuff. And I think they still have some value, though as Ren says the forms tend to be tied into the language also.

      So now, I’m off to twang, ah uh, tune, my poetical lyre and hitch up my toga to keep the hems out of my cowboy boots.

    10. Rose Anna Hines says:

      Renkat thanks for the translation/simplification!

    11. Hi "renkat" …happy that you were able to get through… lovely of you to share your time …

    12. MiskMask says:

      Totally fab explanation. Thanks! :D

    13. No apology needed. I’m finding thankfulness in the fact that I am not the only poet who could not wrap my head around your pretty exposition! ;)

    14. renkat says:

      I’ve discovered that three years writing for academia has made me a little tone deaf to normal conversation. *blush*

    15. Oh, yes! MUCH better, thank you!

    16. de jackson says:

      Yay! Thank you, renkat. That helps, SO much!

    17. renkat says:

      Ouch. Sorry all. To be "concise" would necessarily mean using a lot of jargon. It would be easier to explain it all non concisely, of course… and take a lot more space than there is here.

      It is difficult to present another culture’s poetry respectfully in brief post. To unpack the jargon a little – "The classical qasida is a non-strophic, tripartite poem employing 50 to 120 hemstitch lines, monorhyme and quantitative meter with a tripartite sequence of thematic modules."

      Real World Translation:

      The qasida is a poem written in lines that are not grouped into stanzas. That is, it is just one line after another with no spaces between lines. In Arabic the lines are written from right to left, with a break in the center of each line, so that it appears to be two columns (but the poem is not read that way). The entire 100+ line poem uses a single rhyme (for example, every single line rhymes with "day"). Each line is also written in a special meter than is based on the length of the words. The poem is made up of three parts that are identified by their themes, but there is no other way to see it (no spaces or change in rhyme…). The themes have to do with stages of a man’s life.

      Hope that helps a little. I was trying to be brief, not difficult :-)

    18. Willy says:

      Ditto and amen to all before me.

    19. Tracy Davidson says:

      Sorry, that should have been ‘think’ not ‘thinl’! See, it’s turned my brain (and typing finger) to mush already.

    20. Tracy Davidson says:

      Eek! I like the way it begins "Described concisely". If that’s the concise version I’d hate to see a non-concise one! I’m afraid she lost me after "non-strophic", the rest may as well have read "rhubarb rhubarb".
      Thinl I’ll stick to haiku and shadorma for now – they don’t make by brain hurt.

    21. Rose Anna Hines says:

      I’m in total agreement with everyone above.
      What a workout.


      My body sweating
      My muscles aching
      My brain is shivering
      Cool down is necessary

      But I will be back for another work out anon

    22. Ren Powell ….if there is a dearth of comments … might be attributed to a bunch of poets busy gluing their minds back together after having been blown by the complexity and oxygen deprivation resulting from attempting to fly at your heights of poetic analysis. ( see MiskMask comment above) thank you for sharing…
      And now…..a little jingle for you

      Thank you for sharing
      thank you for caring
      descending from the loft of your level – a feat, sweet and daring

      Seriously, all respect for your work and the Qasida although now that I notice a linkage with the ghazal I must repeat an early thought " with the ghazal, I have not had much " mazel"
      Will continue to read and learn. Thank you Ren Powell for a powerful work- out!

    23. Oh my. I’m with De and Misk … scratching my head over here and doing a lot of umm’ing. I love to read and write poetry, but know precious little history and terminology. However, this line speaks to me richly: "I am well intentioned and respectful…and inspired." Oh, that the whole world would claim that as motto.

      Thank you!

    24. MiskMask says:

      Now I know what Einstein’s spectacles thought: I can read every word set before me, yet I haven’t the capacity to understand half of what’s written.

    25. de jackson says:

      This sentence ’bout killed me:
      "Described concisely, the classical qasida is a non-strophic, tripartite poem employing 50 to 120 hemstitch lines, monorhyme and quantitative meter with a tripartite sequence of thematic modules."

      Yeek. Much study is needed, yes. Enamored of the essence, though…

    26. de jackson says:

      LoveloveLOVE this. Much study needed, though. Be back.

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