Rhyming, End-to-End-Palindromic Verse

Word Ways, February 2010 | Go to article overview

Rhyming, End-to-End-Palindromic Verse


Rhyming, end-to-end-palindromic (RETEP) verse is a relatively recent development in palindromic composition. As its name indicates, RETEP verse is to be distinguished from other varieties of rhyming palindromic verse in which whatever palindromicity exists is not of the end-to-end kind. RETEP verse is arguably the most sophisticated and ambitious form of palindromic writing ever attempted, and it is certainly one of the more challenging ones to try to compose.

The first two published specimens of letter-unit RETEP verse of which I can find any record appeared in the February 1969 issue of Word Ways, which was the first issue to be edited by Howard Bergerson. In an introductory essay, Bergerson presented a number of original palindrome- and charade-based verses, one of which was a RETEP quatrain. In the same issue, an article featuring the palindromic poetry of J. A. Lindon included one RETEP poem, also of four lines. Thus it happens that Bergerson and Lindon, mutual wordplay muses who competed in testing the boundaries of the possible in palindromic composition, very fittingly share the distinction of being the first known publishers of letter-unit RETEP verse.

No study of RETEP verse could be complete without citing the two aforementioned archetypes of the form. Though its lyrics might seem more evocative of a rousing drinking song, Bergerson ascribed his quatrain to the fantasque oriental dancing song "Fling Thong" in the once-performed opera O Tongue in Cheek:

    Rail at natal bosh, aloof gibbons!
     Snob-bird named "Red Rose of Mine Desire!"
   Rise, denim foes! Order--demand ribbons,
     Snob--big fool! Ah, so blatant a liar! 

Unlike mo sty RETEP verse, which rhymes in conventional ABAB fashion, Lindon's poem, entitled "Draw, O Howard," rhymes in an AABB pattern. The composer could easily have rearranged the lines of his poem to rhyme in the usual way (see "Palindromy's Unseen 'Virtual Verse'" in the August 2005 Word Ways), but chose not to do so in order to try to maximize the clarity of its dialogue. In the poem, which imagines a conversation between two hostile swordsmen, one antagonist speaks the first two lines and the other the second two:

    Draw, O hot moody sword girder-on!
   Draw, or foot it! O negate wit! On!
   Not I--wet age--not I! Too froward!
   No red-rig drowsy doom to Howard! 

In the 41 years since the publication of these first letter-unit RETEP verses, surprisingly few additions to the genre--including the six in this article, I know of fewer than two dozen--have appeared. Following its two-part presentation of a varied selection of RETEP verses, this article will attempt to survey this slight corpus, as well as those of the other two kinds of RETEP verse.

A. Four Varieties of RETEP Verse

Nearly all non-palindromic rhyming verse employs meter, which properly used greatly enhances the impact of rhyme. Alas, consistent meter is a perpetual challenge to letter-unit RETEP verse, which normally subordinates it to the more imperative constraints of palindromicity, grammar, rhyme and sensibility. As a result, whatever meter there is to be found in conventional letter-unit RETEP verse is generally due as much to happy accident as to anything else. Several years ago, however, it occurred to me that it might be possible to forcibly incorporate consistent meter into RETEP verse by constructing such verse upon a rigid template in which only a word with a particular accent pattern could be used in a particular place in a stanza. The somewhat Frankensteinian upshot of this speculation was "'Demi Ran, Nan,' Anna Rimed," a prolix, inane, impeccably metrical RETEP poem which overran some five pages of the Nov. 2004 Word Ways. The following compressed excerpt from "Demi's" center conveys a fair idea of her whole:

    "Denni's Not
 Lit, De!" Deene Erred
   "O, Neronian nail! O, gnomon! / Denni, Deng is raw
!" Nap maced;
   "On I
 rot, Mede--it's an omen! … 

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