Who cares where National Backwards Day came from? It’s a great excuse to shake up our (poetry) habits and celebrate the end of January.
Here are a few suggestions for celebrating National Backwards Day:
- dinner for breakfast & breakfast for dinner
- say goodbye when you arrive & hello when you leave
- wear your socks inside out or your shirt backwards
- (for the disgruntled) turn your back in your online meeting (lower risk by turning camera off)
Of course, those of us at Tab Journal think the best way for poets to celebrate National Backwards Day is to write–or rather, revise–a poem backwards. Here are three ways to rework a draft from end to beginning:
- Cut and paste (or rewrite by hand) the last line first, the penultimate line second, the third-to-last line next, and so on through the whole poem. Don’t worry about syntax, punctuation, or meaning until all the lines are in the new order. Once you have a backwards version, treat that as the draft to revise. Think especially about how the reader enters the poem and the different effect this new ending has.
- Keep the lines in order, but reorder the words within some or all of the lines. The reordering may create a confusing jumble, and that’s okay. Go with it. You may notice different challenges depending on whether a line is end stopped or enjambed. Let’s take an example from Robert Frost, who sometimes inverts expected syntax. This sort of reordering may require some not-quite-backwards moves or changes in parts of speech if you want the language to make sense, but keep your idea of sense capacious.
My long two-pointed ladder’s sticking through a tree
Toward heaven still,
And there’s a barrel that I didn’t fill
Beside it, and there may be two or three
Apples I didn’t pick upon some bough.
A tree through sticks laddered long my two-pointed
Heaven still toward
Filling. Didn’t I barrel that there and
Three or two may be there and it beside
Some bough upon which I didn’t pick apples.
- Another way of defining backwards is as opposite. Often, we write the opposite of something word by word, the whole ends up meaning almost the same as the original because of the layers of negation. Often, a word doesn’t have an authentic opposite. But that’s no reason not to try this kind of revision.
Your short unpointed tunnel’s burying out of that root
Away from hell no more,
But here’s this uncontainer that you emptied
On top of it, but here may not be any
Oranges you put under that root.
Okay, not great, but what might we do with words like unpointed, uncontainer, and under, words we might not have come up with–or come up with together–without this exercise in backwardness?
Cheers to backwards! Celebrate poetry whenever you can!