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Jonathan Reed's poem 'Lost Generation' is a pessimistic view of the future if read forwards. However, if you read it backwards linewise (not wordwise), it is still semantically meaningful, but the meaning is optimistic and almost completely opposite.

Here are a few lines backwards and forwards to demonstrate:

In the future
Environmental destruction will be the norm
No longer can it be said that
My peers and I care about this earth
It will be evident that
My generation is apathetic and lethargic
It is foolish to presume that
There is hope

vs

There is hope
It is foolish to presume that
My generation is apathetic and lethargic
It will be evident that
My peers and I care about this earth
No longer can it be said that
Environmental destruction will be the norm
In the future

Of course, the first word that comes to mind is palindromic. However, a palindrome is exactly the same forwards and backwards (discounting punctuation) whereas this is opposite forward and backwards - so pretty much the antonym of a palindrome.

I've spent a while searching for an existing word to describe this to no avail, so I am deferring to the geniuses here :-)

Thanks, Matt

  • "Poem". All of them have a different meaning read backwards. Usually it is a nonsensical one, though. – Oldcat Feb 19 '14 at 22:34
  • That could be said about any text though. Your comment backwards reads 'Though, one nonsensical a is it usually. Backwards read meaning different a have them of all. "Poem"'. It also has a different meaning read backwards (wordwise in this case, as your comment was only one line) albeit nonsensical, yet it is not a poem. I was asking about the specific literary device used in the example above. If there isn't currently a term for it, I would like to know that too. – Matt Duffin Feb 19 '14 at 22:39
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    We don't always have names for things that are isolated incidents without overall use. The story with no letter E in it is just a story. It's quirk is just a quirk and not essential. My arm has a freckle on the wrist. There is no accepted name for this kind of arm. – Oldcat Feb 19 '14 at 22:42
  • True, but the specific example you gave - the story with no letter E - does have a name: it is a lipogram. So we do give names even to isolated incidents. I am, however, willing to accept that, like your wristfreckledarm, there is currently no word in common use for this case. – Matt Duffin Feb 19 '14 at 22:44
  • read backwards it means the opposite is the best descriptor so far. This is a great example; thanks for your question. Hopefully a poet will be able to answer your question. I'll ask one today. (honest) – anongoodnurse Feb 19 '14 at 22:48
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"reverse poem" is what I found when I did a research, though it does not seem like an official term. It is mentioned as a type of palindrome in some of the sources and there are different kinds of reverse poems as well.

Sources:

http://www.ehow.com/how_8556361_write-reverse-poem.html

Reverse poems make sense when read frontwards and backwards. There are three main types of reverse poems: those that reverse line by line, those that reverse word by word, and those that simply reverse the message without the above wordplay.


http://wikidave.wikispaces.com/Reverse+Poetry

Reverse poetry is a poem that can be read forwards one way and have a meaning, but also be read backwards and have another different meaning. A type of ‘reverse’ writing is called a palindrome.

  • Thanks @ermanen. This does seem to be an accurate description of the original example. It's just surprising (and embarrassing) that after considering antigram, anadrome, semordnilap and crab canon that something as prosaic as 'reverse poem' seems to be the right answer. Still, nothing wrong with calling a spade a spade. – Matt Duffin Feb 20 '14 at 11:56
2

You might consider the term crab canon.

From Wikipedia:

A crab canon — also known by the Latin form of the name, canon cancrizans — is an arrangement of two musical lines that are complementary and backward, similar to a palindrome.

Yes, that's more of a musical term than a literary term, but the Wikipedia article goes on to say:

The use of the term in non-musical contexts was popularized by Douglas Hofstadter in Gödel, Escher, Bach.

Hofstadter's brilliant Crab Canon from GEB can be found on this page.


What's the difference between a musical crab canon and a literary one? Well, to be precise, one has no frets.

  • I really like this! I have to say that I prefer the Latin term because 'crab canon' doesn't sound very pleasing to me :-) ... I may be missing something, but what's the etymology? Where does 'crab' come from? – Matt Duffin Feb 20 '14 at 11:14
  • Ah, I have just pictured a musical score with a crab walking along it sideways - backwards and forwards. I guess I was thinking too much of a literary use of 'crab canon' where this image wouldn't work so well. – Matt Duffin Feb 20 '14 at 11:36
  • @MattDuffin - Yes, I think that's it. If you've observed how crabs walk, it should make sense. Many crabs walk from backwards (or from side-to-side) with as much grace and agility as forwards – like this. – J.R. Feb 20 '14 at 13:22
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Apparently, this type of prose is indeed called a palindrome poem, or otherwise known as mirrored poetry.

A palindrome, by definition, is a word, phrase, verse, sentence, or even poem that reads the same forward or backward. It stems from the Greek word palindromos: palin, meaning again, and dromos, meaning a running.

The rules for writing a similar poem are the following.

  1. You must use the same words in the first half of the poem as the second half, but
  2. Reverse the order for the second half, and
  3. Use a word in the middle as a bridge from the first half to the second half of the poem

A further example of a palindrome poem

Good and Evil
Mirrored
are we,
images like ourselves
reflecting, perfect and opposite,
good and evil
- within -
evil and good,
opposite and perfect, reflecting
ourselves like images,
we are
mirrored.


Sources from here and here

  • Thank you very much for your answer. However, I already considered whether it was a palindrome and decided it was not (although I am happy to accept I am wrong). Namely, this is because of the strict requirement for a palindrome to be the exact same (except punctuation) forwards and backwards. Additionally, this poem does not meet the rules specified. Perhaps I made it seem as though it does by setting out an example and its opposite below it - this was my formatting and not in the original, so sorry if this caused confusion. The original has only the 'forward' text. – Matt Duffin Feb 19 '14 at 22:55
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    Just seen your updated answer - the Good and Evil poem uses the exact same words in the opposite order, whereas Lost Generation keeps the word order within a each line, but reverses the line order. This difference is making me lean more against palindrome. – Matt Duffin Feb 19 '14 at 22:59
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    Another great example! This, however, truly is a palindrome (of words, not letters), whereas the OP's poem is not. – anongoodnurse Feb 19 '14 at 23:00
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    @MattDuffin That's fine, I Googled for a bit and found these references and finally a palindrome poem that I actually liked! I think your question is a very good one. – Mari-Lou A Feb 19 '14 at 23:04
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The word you want is antigram.

Edited to add source.

  • Thanks @fdb. Your 'antigram' idea got me looking in a different direction. I didn't like 'antigram' because one can rearrange the letters in any order to create the antigram. However, I did come across 'anadrome' and 'semordnilap', which require a strict reversal of letter order. Despite these being the closest we have come so far, they all rely on the reversal of letter order, rather than line order. I will keep searching along the road inspired by your post :) – Matt Duffin Feb 19 '14 at 23:04
  • Good try, but OP's poem does not meet the definition. – anongoodnurse Feb 19 '14 at 23:04
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    @fdb thanks for the clarification. I think that 'anadrome' and 'semordnilap' are closer because they require a strict reversal of the order whereas 'antigram' is an anagram of the word, which forms its antonym. However, none of these words (anadrome, semordnilap or antigram) operate on a line-by-line level - rather letter-by-letter or word-by-word. – Matt Duffin Feb 19 '14 at 23:09
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    @MattDuffin - I was about to post the same. I feel that anadrome is the closest and most euphonic, but as you say - nothing seems to work on a line basis. – Epicentre Feb 20 '14 at 6:48
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    @Epicentre agreed, it is a mellifluous word. I do like the wryness of semordnilap though, which is itself a semordnilap (although purposely and trivially constructed to be so). – Matt Duffin Feb 20 '14 at 11:05
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I don't know an official word, but would throw out invertible.

The word means capable of inversion, which this poem clearly is. You are inverting the order of its lines and the result is a new poem.

Inverting a function in mathematics means turning it upside down and typically resulting in a new value for the resulting function. This is essentially the same.

Granted this word ONLY functions if you are not looking for the meaning to be completely opposite, only meaningful.

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