When it comes to structured poetry, there are all sorts of different styles, devices, and ideas for what can make a structure. The palindrome is one of the word-play structures like a found poem, or a cinquain. The palindrome bases itself around the idea that you can read something forwards and backwards, and get something interesting and unique both ways.
What is a Palindrome
A palindrome, in general, is something that is read the same forwards and backwards. For example the name “Hannah” is a palindrome with the reflective point between the two Ns. “Madd Addam” is another palindrome, with the reflective point as the A in Addam. Just like those are palindromes, so is the sentence “You can see can you?” with the reflective point around “see.”
Poets have taken this concept and adapted it; while they keep the same letters on both sides, the meaning changes. Just like “You can see can you” has two sides, “You can see” and “can you?” the poems are developed into two different messages using just one set of words and letters.
Types of Palindromes
The most common on the internet are ‘letter’ palindromes: “Anna”, “Was it a car or a cat I saw,” and “racecar.”
However, in poetry they are much more diverse. A palindrome can make a mirror from the smallest size, letters, all the way up to entire stanzas. To understand how I am going to be naming these different types, bear with the mirror metaphor.
If we look at “Anna,” putting a mirror between the Ns makes a direct translation. This is what I will call a word palindrome, or a ‘letter reflection’ because the individual letters are what we move to make the palindrome.
Now let’s take a look at this example:
“We can be
as we want
we can be”
This is an example of a ‘stanza’ palindrome because if we were to make these two stanzas, the reflection is around “as we want” and the entire lines are repeated exactly as they were the first time. It could also be considered a ‘line reflection’ because the entire line is taken and over the reflection.
Here’s another example:
“Suddenly I saw
her. Bells in hair
hair in bells, her
saw I suddenly”
In this case we have a line palindrome because the lines are flipped. Each line has a reflection so the last word becomes the first word. These are also called ‘word reflections’ because the individual words of the lines are taken and reflected.
So to explain this better, each time we call something an x reflection, we are talking about the smallest unit that is reflected. If we talk about an x palindrome, we’re talking about what is created when we flip it.
A word palindrome is a letter reflection
A line palindrome is a word reflection
A stanza palindrome is a line reflection
There are still more types of palindromes out there than just these three!
Another type of palindrome that is popular is a palindrome with a cue for the reader to read it backwards. These can be tricky because it requires breaking the fourth wall, or directly addressing and suggesting your reader do something. Still, it can be really popular, and most of them are stanza palindromes.
Through some debate palindromes thus have become something that is read both forwards and backwards, whether it is intended to be read straight through once, or by reading the lines backwards once you reach the end of the poem. The complexity of the palindrome is completely subject to the choice of the writer.
The best way to indicate that something is a palindrome is to simply put “Palindrome” in the title somewhere, whether it is “Our Lives: A Palindrome” or “Palindrome 1” it can help indicate that it is supposed to be a palindrome. Another method is to add it into an author’s note in the poem.
In palindromes, grammar goes out the window. It is not necessary to mirror anything other than the words. This is part of how palindromes work in poetry. The idea is to create something new even though we are reading the same words. This comes in handy if we’re reading a poem that is a stanza palindrome where the lines are just repeated because we can give it a new intonation with removing, adding, or substituting characters.
This does not mean we can erase words or add words.
Editing palindromes can be tricky because what you do on one side of the reflection, if you include the reflection, you have to do on the other. The best way to edit a palindrome is to pick a side and make that side as good as you can while reading and checking the other side for clarity.
When you finish with one side, do the reverse and see if there is a way to compromise between the two sides. The best palindromes are the ones where you don’t even notice there was a reversal.