December 13, 2013

Reverso Fairy Tales

        Reverso poems are those which can be read down the page for one message, and then read with the order of the lines reversed to make a different message.  According to the “rules” propounded by Marilyn Singer, you can change only punctuation and capitalization between the two versions.  Singer claims to have invented the form, which I find dubious, but I believe she did invent the name.  She’s also popularized the idea with her books of reverso poems on traditional fairy tales.  As she points out, reverso poems are particularly well suited to telling two sides to a story, and fairy tales are always interesting to explore from a second point of view.
        Mirror, Mirror contains fourteen such poems, along with bright two-sided illustrations.  In some the change in word order doesn’t really seem to add much new understanding, but in others there’s a surprising twist of perspective that can make you think about the story in a new way.  This would be particularly intriguing and exciting to lower elementary-aged children who are just beginning to learn about the concept that different people have different points of view.  There’s a poem telling Goldilocks’s story, for example, which reverses to tell the story as the Three Bears see it.  Another set of poems pairs the importance of Rumpelstiltskin’s name with the apparent unimportance of the miller’s daughter’s name.  I think Singer’s second book of fairy tale reversos, Follow, Follow, is even better.
        Here’s a fun one: Birthday Suit

Behold his glorious majesty:
me.
Who dares say he drained the treasury
on
nothing?
Ha!
This emperor has
sublime taste in finery!
Only a fool could fail to see.

Only a fool could fail to see.
Sublime taste in finery?
This emperor has -
ha! -
nothing
on!
Who dares say he drained the treasury?
Me.
Behold his glorious majesty.

        Inasmuch as poetry is supposed to immerse us in language more intense than everyday prose, evoking images with the power to pierce and draw forth emotion, these lines just don’t have it.  But poetry’s other job, to show us the world in a new way and to invite us to consider magic we might otherwise not have noticed, is admirably served by these collections.  The poems also demonstrate for children the wonderful concept that language can be played with, that words can be juggled for multiple meanings, and that how you tell a story makes all the difference.

[Picture: Cover illustration by Josée Masse, Mirror Mirror by Marilyn Singer, Dutton, 2010.]
Poem by Marilyn Singer from Follow Follow, Dial, 2013.

1 comment:

  1. Oooo - I will put this one of my Amazon wish lift, maybe to buy for my kids in April (national poetry month.) Thanks for sharing!

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