Thursday, April 30, 2015


Marilyn Singer was recently named the winner of the 2015 NCTE Excellence in Poetry for Children Award.

As soon as I heard the news, I thought about the reverso, a poetic form to which I was introduced through Singer's Mirror Mirror: A Book of Reverso Poems.

Each reverso in this collection  turns a familiar fairy tale upside down--literally.  We are forced to look at the tale from different angles and perspectives.

Portraits of well-known characters shed new light on their stories, relationships, and motives.

Reading down and then up again, changes our tales in surprising ways.  We are given many reasons to pause, puzzle, ponder... and smile.

If these poems delight us, we can enjoy more in Singer's second and most recent offering, Follow Follow: A Book of Reverso Poems. This one also focuses on traditional tales.

Singer explains how she created the reverso in response to her own question:

We read most poems down the page.  But what if we read them up? That's the question I asked myself when I created the reverso.  When you read a reverso down. it is one poem. When you read it up, with changes allowed only in punctuation and capitalization it is a different poem. 

According to her author's note, her first reverso was about her cat.

A cat
a chair:

A chair
a cat. 
Singer's reversos deal with fairy tales, reversing our familiar fictional worlds, creating topsy-turvy reflections.

Reversos, however, don't have to be fun and flirty.  They can just as easily, powerfully, and effectively turn serious, sad, or current issues on their ends.

After my father died last year, I was drawn to poems on grief.  I discovered Myth by Natasha Trethewey in The Art of Losing: Poems of Grief and Healing edited by Kevin Young.

Trethewey's Native Guard: Poems, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 2007, also contains this poem, as well as others examining grief, but I don't remember noticing the reversible structure when I initially read this poem in this collection. Perhaps because, as yet, I had no name for it.

As I researched reversible poetry, I discovered much interest and many variations on the structure.

Reversible, mirror, or palindrome poems can be created by reversing each line, each word, or even more challenging, each letter.

A quick search online results in varied instructions and many samples.

A challenge to try writing a reverso is  issued on the Miss Rumphius Effect Blog's Poetry Stretch.

Amy Ludwig VanDerwater has written on reverso each day since she was introduced to the form.

Read PJ Perry's reVerse Poems: A Reversible Poetry Collection.  His reVersed poems reverse word by word, which is a little more challenging.

 No consideration of reversible poetry would be complete without considering two internet favorites: Our Generation by 14-year-old Jordan Nichols and Lost Generation by Jonathan Reed.

 And finally, here is my first attempt at writing  a reverso, Baltimore April 2015, my way of processing recent events.

Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

Read several sample reversos or other forms of reversible poetry.

What makes this structure a powerful form? What are hindrances of this form?

As you try your own, what do you find comes easily and naturally?  What proved difficult for you?

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