Monday, October 11, 2010

Varieties of palindromes in poetry

My posting for October 6 mentioned palindromes. Today we continue with the topic, including illustrations of the various ways they may influence poems.  A number such as 12345654321, which reads the same if its digits are reversed, is the sort of palindrome one encounters in arithmetic.  Palindromic poetry includes more variety.  These sentences, taken from a list compiled by Ralph Griswold, are samples of palindromes in which the unit is a single letter.

     A Toyota.
     Dennis sinned.
     Stella won no wallets.
     Marge let a moody baby doom a telegram.

     Nick Montfort, MIT professor of digital media, and William Gillespie co-authored (with the aid of a computer program, Deep Speed) the longest-known letter-by-letter palindrome: 2002: A Palindrome Story (of 2002 words).   Alternatively, click on this link for Comedian Demetri Martin's 224-word palindrome poem.
     Background information for the palindrome and other poetic forms may be found in Table of Forms (Spineless Books, by Dominique Fitzpatrick-O'Dinn.  The above-mentioned program, Deep Speed, is available online for each of us to use.

Here are several word-unit palindromes from

     King, are you glad you are king?
     Fall leaves after leaves fall.
     Escher, drawing hands, drew hands drawing Escher.

And here, a word-unit palindrome poem

     Love/Hate Relationship   by Paula Brown

     Mimics hate:
     Passionate always, forging forward.
     Unquiet rage screams
     Tangled mercilessly;
     Mercilessly tangled.
     Screams rage, unquiet.
     Forward forging, always passionate:
     Hate mimics

Most easily constructed  is the palindrome-poem in which the unit reversed is the line-- so that the poem's lines are identical when the top-to-bottom order is reversed.   Here are several short ones taken from a workshop website; a popular longer poem, "Doppelganger," by James A Lindon, is posted several places on the internet,  In print, Lindon's poem is found in Beyond Language: Adventures in Word and Thought (Scribner, 1967), edited by Dmitri A Borgmann.

   Untitled Palindrome            by Nick Montfort

     starting the poem
     as when I was
     not nearly so certain
     I hesitated
     then it was time to conclude
     I hesitated
     not nearly so certain
     as when I was
     starting the poem

 Untitled Palindrome              by Jen Snead

     Now there is an empty chair at the table,
     she brews a pot of coffee, and leaves
     the door open for the neighbors.
     We came by as women do, to sit in the afternoon,
     who smoke cigarettes, one after the other,
     speaking of no-account men.
     Speaking of no-account men,
     who smoke cigarettes, one after the other —
     we came by as women do, to sit in the afternoon.
     The door open for the neighbors,
     she brews a pot of coffee, and leaves.
     Now there is an empty chair at the table.

 Untitled Palindrome              by Mike Maguire

     In the clearing
     day, seeking the well
     groomed man who spent his
     day with a poorly
     groomed man who spent his
     day seeking the well
     in the clearing.

In his blog, author Phil Bolsta has a posting entitled "Of Poems and Palindromes:  Lost Generation"--and at this site Bolsta has posted video presentations of two poems for which the meaning is reversed when the lines of the poem are read in opposite order.   Not exactly palindromes, but reversals nonetheless.  Bolsa's site also contains a list of palindrome sentences he has compiled.

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