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What Is a Palindrome?
The word palindrome is derived from the Greek word palindromos, which is a combination of palin meaning “again” and dromos meaning “route or direction.” A palindrome is usually a string of words that contain a sequence of letters in the first half that are presented in the exact reverse order in the second half—for instance, “taco cat.” Some other famous examples of palindromes are: “kayak,” “deified,” “Madam, I’m Adam,” and “a man, a plan, a canal, Panama.”
Another type of palindrome is known as a word unit palindrome. A word unit palindrome is a grouping of words that appear in an identical order if viewed forward or backward. A phrase like “face to face” is a simple example of a word-unit palindrome; there are more complex word-unit palindromes that change meaning when read backward.
A line palindrome or line-unit palindrome is a piece of writing, most often a poem, that has an initial set of lines that then reverse order halfway through the piece without alterations to the word order within the line.
What Is Palindrome Poetry?
Palindromic poems (also known as palindrome poetry or mirrored poetry) combine poetic form with line palindromes or mirror-image word-unit palindromes. Palindrome poetry starts with an initial poem and then hinges on a line that usually repeats directly in the middle of the poem before working through the rest of the lines in reverse order.
3 Examples of Palindrome Poetry
One of the most exciting things about palindrome poetry is that it is an underutilized form. There aren’t very many examples out there, but some of the best mirror poems include:
- “Doppelgänger” by James A. Lindon: This poem depicts a man entering his house one evening, only to see a shadowy figure staring at him and his wife. In the second half of the poem, the lines are reversed and we see the same scene from the perspective of the mysterious doppelgänger.
- “Dammit I’m Mad” by Demetri Martin: This poem is unique in that it is both a line palindrome and word palindrome. Comedian and writer Demetri Martin not only reverses the order of the lines for the second half of the poem but also reverses the order of the letters within the lines. Martin’s palindromes vary in form but are all equally impressive and inventive.
- “Two Brief Views of Hell” by Susan Stewart: In “Two Brief Views of Hell,” writer Susan Stewart depicts a journey into and back out of hell through the use of line palindrome.
4 Tips for Writing Palindrome Poetry
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Palindrome poetry is fertile ground for both new and experienced writers. There’s no better way to improve your palindrome poetry skills than by diving in and trying your hand at it. That being said, here are some tips to get you started:
- Do your research. There are relatively few examples of famous palindrome poetry. If you are writing your own palindrome poem for the first time, look up a few examples to see what techniques you like and dislike from other writers’ work.
- Combine forms. Combining forms like haiku and free verse with line or word palindrome can be a great entry point for new palindrome poetry writers. Palindrome poetry is a great way to explore ideas of self-reflection and changes in perspective. Using a form you know can give you a bit more comfort and familiarity as you approach palindrome poetry.
- Perfect your first line. The first line is arguably the most important part of a palindrome poem. It will introduce your premise and themes to the reader and set the tone for the first half. Perhaps most importantly, the first line will reoccur and become the last line. Make sure your first line is strong and sets up both an evocative beginning and a conclusive ending.
- Read other poetry. Reading short poems outside of the palindrome form will help you with any sort of poetry you write. If there is a particular American poet that you like, such as Walt Whitman or Sylvia Plath, think about the aspects of their work that you enjoy and try to incorporate that into your palindrome poetry.
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