Saturday, March 19, 2005

Palindrome Poems

A palindrome is word, phrase, or other text whose letters spell the same backward and forward. Some well-known examples are MADAM I’M ADAM, and A MAN, A PLAN, A CANAL, PANAMA!

A word palindrome is made when the words (rather than the letters) of text read the same forward and backward, as in SO PATIENT A DOCTOR TO DOCTOR A PATIENT SO (one of my personal favorites).

A line palindrome is when the individual lines of a text make a palindromic sequence. Notice how the following poem by James A. Lindon reads identically from the first line to the last as it does from the last to the first. (It's from Dmitri Borgmann's Beyond Language (1967)). I think it is amazing how an identical line changes it’s meaning completely from one end of the poem to the other.


Doppelgänger

Entering the lonely house with my wife
I saw him for the first time
Peering furtively from behind a bush –
Blackness that moved,
A shape amid the shadows,
A momentary glimpse of gleaming eyes
Revealed in the ragged moon.
A closer look (he seemed to turn) might have
Put him to flight forever –
I dared not
(For reasons that I failed to understand),
Though I knew I should act at once.
I puzzled over it, hiding alone,
Watching the woman as she neared the gate.
He came, and I saw him crouching
Night after night.
Night after night
He came, and I saw him crouching,
Watching the woman as she neared the gate.
I puzzled over it, hiding alone –
Though I knew I should act at once,
For reasons that I failed to understand
I dared not
Put him to flight forever.
A closer look (he seemed to turn) might have
Revealed in the ragged moon
A momentary glimpse of gleaming eyes
A shape amid the shadows,
Blackness that moved.
Peering furtively from behind a bush,
I saw him, for the first time
Entering the lonely house with my wife.


Susan Stewart has a terrific line palindrome poem in her recent book Columbarium, where the form mirrors the action of the poem (a journey in to and out of Hell). This in only an excerpt:

Two Brief Views of Hell

Leaving the fringe of light at the edge of the leaves, deeper, then deeper,
the rocking back and forth movement forward through the ever-narrowing circle
that never, in truth, narrowed beyond the bending going in,
not knowing whether a turn or impasse would lie at the place
where the darkness turned into impenetrability, deep where
no longer could down or up or side to side be known, just the effort
to stay above the water, to keep one spread palm bearing
against the weight and then the other, deeper and deeper.
The way in was easy once it began. The way in was all necessity.
Behind the darkness, more darkness; beneath the water only water.
. . .
Behind the darkness, more darkness; beneath the water only water.
The way in was easy once it began. The way in was all necessity
against the weight and then the other, deeper and deeper
to stay above the water, to keep one spread palm bearing
no longer could down or up or side to side be known, just the effort
where the darkness turned into impenetrability, deep where
not knowing whether a turn or impasse would lie at the place
that never, in truth, narrowed beyond the bending going in,
the rocking back and forth movement forward through the ever-narrowing circle.
Leaving the fringe of light at the edge of the leaves, deeper, then deeper.

********************************************************

So:
The next time I am stuck with a poem that feels half-written, or seeming to end in mid-air, I am going to try completing it as a line palindrome, (simply rewriting what I have in reverse, and putting the two halves together) just to see what different things I might now be able to say. Hopefully it will be something interesting!

11 comments:

jenni said...

You're clever, Peter. I can't do these word games--they give me a migraine! I tried that ladder one and got so flustered that I lined the parakeets cage with the paper attempt. BTW, I got your book yesterday and it's a beautiful and powerful collection.

Peter said...

Hi Jenni: Clever? I dunno, I think I'm a little slow. LOL. Glad you are enjoying the book. Best wishes for the chapbook you are working on.

the machinist said...

I love playing around with poems like this. I actually did one like that six months or so ago, but it actually reads like a palindrome word-for-word instead of line-for-line, if that makes sense. Not sure if it's good, but it's there.

And, Peter, by the way--I picked up your book at the library last week. I haven't had a chance to read it yet, but I've heard nothing but rave reviews. I'm looking forward to it.

the machinist said...

oh! I just noticed you won the Hayden Carruth award. Are you going to be reading in Vancouver for AWP, then?

A friend/former prof of mine, Rebecca Wee, won that in 2000, and she's making the trip up there.

Peter said...

Hi Woody: Yes, I'll be reading with Rebecca, and two of the other past winners (Sacha Fienstein and Jenny Factor). I've never met any of them, so i am really looking forward to it.

Erin B. said...

Peter, Rebecca Wee, who, as Woody said, also won the Hayden Carruth Award back in 2000, also my friend, is my teaching my senior English Seminar this term on Poetry of Witness. She's fantastic, and wicked with a pen.

Congrats to the both of you for your achievements and the reading at AWP. By the way, I've just inter-library loaned Waying the World; can't wait to check it out. Cheers.

P.S. Your blog has a kind of tenderness I thoroughly enjoy.

Erin B. said...

P.P.S. I, too, dig the challence of the poetic palindrome.

michael said...

See: http://graywyvern.blogspot.com/2004_09_19_graywyvern_archive.html

(scroll down to "The Angel of Death")

--the whole poem is a single letter-unit palindrome.

m.

Anonymous said...

Hello!I'm from China.There is palindrome poetry in China,too.I think it's amazing.I'm so glad to see your blog!

Tauche said...

Palindrome poetry is one of my favorites. I enjoy challanging myself once in a while to create one. Here's one I've completed recently:

Spring is this, heavens above
Bring some happiness, this is love
Waters creating, giving birth
Daughters side to side, this is earth
Sprouting leaves, continue breaking,
Doubting previous silence, waking
Songs of life echoing around
Wrongs disappearing, no longer bound
Cold diminishing, forever seen
Bold beginnings, everything is green
Warming affection, giving sun
Forming forever, now it’s begun


Begun, it’s now forever forming
Sun giving affection, warming
Green is everything, beginnings bold
Seen forever, diminishing cold
Bound longer? No. Disappearing wrongs
Around echoing, life of songs
Waking silence, previous doubting
Breaking continue, leaves sprouting
Earth is this, side to side daughters
Birth giving, creating waters
Love is this, happiness some bring
Above heavens, this is spring

~ Anne Burns

Sula said...

Anne Burns, i love your palindrome poem - beautiful.