Write your own Reverse Poem

I recently came across a poem online that took my breath away. I was stunned by the message in the poem as well as the unusual way it was delivered.  The poem I found could be read in two entirely different ways – from the first line to the last line, or in reverse, from the last line back up to the first line.  Both ways of reading it were fully understandable but in vastly different ways.

Reverse Poems have been taught in classrooms where children write simple lines that can be reversed.  Here’s an example from an elementary school.  Read it down then read it in reverse from the last line to the first.

Be late
You always hate to
Get up early

But the poems I discovered were more complicated and emotion-saturated.  British poet and self-described “Poet Laureate of Twitter” published the poem Refugees on his website. A year later, when an online reader asked Bilston, “Your poem Refugees was read (both ways) at my friend’s Seder tonight. I would like to share it with others. Please let me know if I can.  It’s very powerful.” Bilston agreed and sent best wishes.  Refugees by Brian Bilston is online at: brianbilston.com/2016/03/23/refugees.

The following reverse poem shared by a friend stunned everyone who heard it read aloud for the first time.  The emotion and intensity expressed by the poet who had recently completed chemo and radiation was visceral.  Each of us felt shaken after hearing the poem from the first line down the page.  But after she read it a second time from bottom to top, everyone cheered.  Written in less than 12 minutes, this poem felt to all of us like a major turning point in her recovery.

I am a cancer victim
And I refuse to believe that
I’m healthy and strong
I realize this may be a shock, but
My cells vibrate with health and energy
Is a lie
All good things must end
In 30 years, I will tell my children that
I have my priorities straight because
Sickness
Is more important than
Health
I tell you this:
Once upon a time
People survived and thrived after cancer
But this will not be true in my era
Cancer kills
Experts tell me
The treatment is brutal
I do not conclude that
I am already cured
In the future,
Woe is me
No longer can it be said that
I am boldly living
It will be evident that
Cancer really sucks
It is foolish to presume that
Beyond struggles is deep meaning.

Now check in with how your own body feels after reading this poem.  Then, take a deep breath and begin reading it from the last line and continue reading one line at a time up to the first line.

If you would like to write your own reverse poem, here is a template found online that will help.  Fill in the blanks as directed so that it makes sense reading from both the top down and the bottom up.  After you finish your first draft, you may need to edit your initial phrases to make your final draft flow smoothly.

I am a ­____________ (negative)

And I refuse to believe that

__________________(positive)

I realize this may be a shock, but

__________________(positive)

Is a lie

__________________(state a lie)

In 30 years, I will tell my children that

I have my priorities straight because

____________________(one word – negative)

Is more important than

____________________(one word – positive)

I tell you this:

Once upon a time

___________________(positive)

But this will not be true in my era

___________________(negative)

Experts tell me

___________________(negative)

I do not conclude that

___________________(positive)

In the future,

___________________(negative)

No longer can it be said that

___________________(positive)

It will be evident that

___________________(negative)

It is foolish to presume that

___________________(positive)

 

If you would like to share your own poem, please send it to me at [email protected].  I hope to hear from many of you, but more importantly, I hope this writing technique might open new possibilities and potential for you.

 

Susan is an online instructor for The Writing Institute & Center for Journal Therapy and leads personal writing groups and workshops approved by the SC Social Work Examiners Board for CEU credits. Read all previous Columbia Star Newspaper articles at: www.susanhendricks.com/columbia-star-news.

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