Tips on Making Palindromic Poems
Like the palindromic phrase, "A man, a plan, a canal -- Panama," which can be read both forward and backward, the palindromic poem can also be read in both directions. The palindromic poem presents a challenge to writers in terms of both form and content. Not only must the poet use the same words in the second half of the poem as in the first, but the reverse reading must also make sense and hopefully relate to some kind of reversal of events or ideas, to make the poem's form meaningful.
Picking an Effective Topic
You can use any topic for a palindromic poem, but a topic with a powerful "mirror message" creates an effective, provocative poem. A palindromic poem that narrates entering a mirror world to your own or an undoing of events manipulates the form to create greater meaning. Alternatively, the narrator could experience falling in and out of love, for example, through the forward and then reverse reading of the poem, resulting in commentary on how the feelings of romantic love can reverse themselves.
Choosing Your Palindromic Form
Some poets structure their palindromic poem so that every line can be read backward, in addition to the whole poem. For example, in reverse, "Teachers teach students" reads "Students teach teachers." In other palindromic poems, the whole poem is simply read in reverse, line by line, but each line still reads in a forward direction. This is called a "line unit" poem. For example, the lines "The lovers holding hands / Noticed only each other and not / The crowds passing by," would read in reverse order, "The crowds passing by / Noticed only each other and not / The lovers holding hands."
If you choose to shape your poem so every single line is a palindrome, you might find it difficult to use adjectives. For instance, "Teachers teach bored students" doesn't make sense backward: "Students bored teach teachers." If you choose a line-by-line palindrome, understanding clauses proves helpful. "The lovers holding hands" is a noun clause because all the words are grouped together to explain the noun "lovers." They are not separable in this example. However, you can rearrange a sentence by its clauses, as the example about lovers demonstrates, and still retain logical meaning. Therefore, if you can identify clauses, you can separate the lines in a palindromic poem accordingly.
Because the palindromic form is so unusual, finding examples can be difficult. One line unit poem published in 1967 by James A. Lindon, "Doppelganger," narrates an eerie tale of a man entering his house with his wife, wondering at another man apparently crouching in the bushes. On the reverse reading of the poem, the narrator crouches in the bushes and watches another man (or himself?) enter the house with his own wife. In his book "Pattern Poetry: Guide to An Unknown Literature," Dick Higgins studies palindromic patterns in Chinese poetry. Recently, a couple of palindromic poems have achieved viral status on Twitter and Facebook -- "Our Generation" and "An Atheist's/Christian's View of Life" -- probably due in part to the unique and clever arrangements the poetic form affords.
Nadine Smith has been writing since 2010. She teaches college writing and ESL courses and has several years experience tutoring all ages in English, ESL and literature. Nadine holds a Master of Arts in English language and literature from McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, where she led seminars as a teaching assistant.