October 21, 2016

The Palindromedary

        Today is Ursula K. Le Guin’s birthday, worthy of celebration as she’s a towering figure in speculative fiction, particularly in the idea of making speculative fiction into a form every bit as serious, thoughtful, and well-written as “literary fiction.”  (Indeed, she loathes all these genre divisions and the intellectual snobbery that always seems to go along with them.)  Le Guin has experimented for some 60 years with using speculative fiction to make us consider our own universe in new ways, as well as with writing simply beautiful prose.  She also writes poetry, and since it seemed about time for more poetry here, I thought I’d share one of Le Guin’s fantasy poems.  But as I went looking through my various sources, I find that while much of Le Guin’s poetry is set in fantasy worlds (indeed Le Guin was a major influence on me in my youth in the matter of using the everyday poetry of life in world-building) most of it concerns life and death, the deepest things and the most ordinary things, that are true in every universe and thus not exclusively fantastical.  And as I read through poems this morning it was this silly, flippant piece that tickled me.

A palindrome I do not want to write

The mournful palindromedary,
symmetrical and arbitrary,
cannot desert the desert, cannot roam,
plods back and forth but never reaches home.
Mental boustrophedon is scary.
I do not want to write a palindrome.

        This creature must clearly be some relative of the pushmi-pullyu, the double-ended gazelle-chamois-unicorn cross from The Story of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting.  The pushmi-pullyu, however, is generally a happier beast than the palindromedary, though terribly shy.  As for me, I’m a fan of palindromes as well as dromedaries, so I’m very sorry to see the palindromedary so mournful!
        Happy Birthday, Ms Le Guin!

[Picture: The Palindromedary, drawing by Ursula K. Le Guin, 2009 (Image, and poem, from Le Guin’s web site.)]

        P.S. It's Roslindale Open Studios this weekend.  Be there if you can!

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