Reading poetry in reverse…

In the spring of 2001 while participating in a weekly class at the New Orleans School for the Imagination, at the Goldmine Saloon, I learned many creative ways of approaching and improving upon my poetic form.

The class was taught by New Orleans poet David Brinks and included random appearances and guest lecturings by, then, LSU professor Andrei Codrescu

These techniques I still employ – they are timeless in their ability to produce something interesting from our craft. One technique Brinks often asked us to experiment with while reading our poems aloud was one that he learned while, “watching Bernadette Mayer talk to poets after they’d finished reading at a performance,” she’d tell them, “read your poem backwards now, line for line.”

About a month ago I attended the Literary Arts Boom [LAB] reading at the East End Book Exchange where I found brewmaster Brandon McCarthy getting ready to, nervously, read his small but distinct poem in the night’s lineup.

His poem read:

The city shines out across the water
like promise itself,
a flaming white love letter to
work-worn hands,
a cannon-fired kiss aimed at young dreamers,
and I say to it, “I love you too, Pittsburgh.”

His nervousness was a result of having not been on stage in quite a while and so I suggested, instead of just reading his lines, he reads them in reverse. With slight modification to word order and choice he produced, instead, a different and still impacting meaning:

And I say to it, “I love you too, Pittsburgh,”
a cannon-fired kiss aimed at young dreamers,
and work-worn hands,
a flaming white love letter to
promise itself,
to shine out across the water.

Today I was thinking of this encounter and remembered, in 2011, I attempted to convey lessons of poetry via Youtube videos. This one in particular expounds on poetry in reverse by reading and reversing Yusef Komunyakaa.

I implore you to try it with your own poetry and the poetry of those whom you admire. You will find something new and beautiful almost instantly that you couldn’t have discovered another way.

For example – after watching this video I found a great, new appreciation for having lost those 40 pounds… Look at that face… And that chin…

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