Mirror poems

mirror

A poet friend gave me the collection The World’s Two Smallest Humans by Julia Copus as a birthday present. Copus is said to have invented the specular (mirror) poem form. However, the word palindrome comes from the Greek, meaning “running back again” and palindrome or mirror poems have been found in Sanskrit language and way back in antiquity. But, it was Copus who gave the form the new title and she has written several of such poems, where the second stanza repeats the first, but in reverse order.

The title of the poem is Raymond, at 60. It starts The 185 from Catford, the 68 from Euston -/those same buses climbing the hill long into the evening. The last line of the first stanza is: that first time she’d taken him down to watch the buses. The first stanza of 20 lines is a journey through time with Raymond in a hospital ward. He kisses his mother who has just died, and this takes him suddenly

back on Broadway, crushed to her breast, in a gesture
that meant, he knew now, You are loved. There he was, with her

The second stanza, perfectly mirroring, is therefore also a journey: this time in chronological order, with Raymond setting out, aged eleven, or twelve.

By the time we have read the first stanza, we have the story, the information. So, the second stanza will not be a complete surprise. Small changes in punctuation are permitted in the second stanza, but it far from easy to ensure that the second half of the poem is alive, has emotional impact. This poem works because of the death, the mother-son relationship, rich and telling detail.

In the recent Ver Poets Competition one of the shortlisted poems clinging on in the badlands by Steve Pottinger is another example of a specular poem:

The beer is good when you’re sitting in the sun.
I can only tell you that
the work has gone to China or Taiwan.
We’re a precariat now, bolting up memories.

The poem is an effective and moving account of changes, the end of manufacturing. All this were factories, once, making locks by the million: Yale, Union, Parkes’s. Steve has dealt with the challenge of making the second stanza “fresh” by keeping the poem relatively short – 22 lines.

The poem by Victoria Gatehouse Weathering the Tent (from her book Light After Light) has the same length as Raymond, at 60. Perhaps there is an optimum length for this type of poem? Anyway, it’s still summer, we’re not packing up that tent yet!

Weathering the Tent

Tonight, we pack up the tent –
a corner at a time, our familiar routine, folding
the canvas we weathered twenty years ago,
cocooned in green dimness, listening, listening
until finally, that drip drip drip on our faces
as we lay on the groundsheet, numb-backed
from the cold, every one of your roll-ups
lighting me up, a catch in my throat;
over our heads that slow expansion,
fibres growing into one another,
meshing until watertight.
Tonight, kneeling side by side,
we press forward to quash the billow,
releasing breaths of earth, smoke, gabardine.
All creaking resistance, this fabric,
you and I cursing, our guy-roped hands
holding out for old creases.
All these years of practice and still
so many attempts
to force another summer in the bag.

To force another summer in the bag –
so many attempts,
all these years of practice and still
holding out for old creases;
you and I cursing, our guy-roped hands
all creaking resistance, this fabric
releasing breaths of earth, smoke, gabardine.
We press forward to quash the billow
tonight, kneeling side by side
meshing until watertight,
fibres growing into one another;
over our heads that slow expansion
lighting me up, a catch in my throat
from the cold, every one of your roll-ups,
as we lay on the groundsheet, numb-backed,
until finally, that drip, drip, drip on our faces.
Cocooned in green dimness, listening, listening –
the canvas we weathered twenty years ago,
a corner at a time, our familiar routine, folding.
Tonight, we pack up the tent.

 

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s