‘Echo Echo’: Palindrome Poetry for National Poetry Month

Reading Time: 2 minutes
Image: Dial Books/Penguin Group
Image: Dial Books/Penguin Group

Poetry is one of those things that people say you either love or you hate. As a lit major in college who has a decidedly engineer brain when it comes to the logic arena, poetry was generally not my jam. I have some favorite poets, Emily Dickinson topping the list; however, as a genre, I admit it’s a bit too amorphous for my general taste (which is totally weird because I love spoken word and hip hop).

When the opportunity arose for reviewing poetry books for April as National Poetry Month, I thought that reading something with my seven-year-old son would be a way to do my due diligence as an English teacher mother. To engage him, though, it takes finding things already in his interest wheelhouse. This is where Marilyn Singer’s book of poetry based on Greek myths, Echo Echo, comes in.

Greek myths appeal to little kids for a lot of reasons, although I assume mostly because they contain a lot of violence and a lot of monsters.

Echo Echo‘s reverso poems are essentially palindromic poetry. When you read it forward, you get one character’s story. Reading it from the end to the beginning gives you the story from the other character’s perspective. Each story’s two-page layout contains an illustration representing both characters, a description of the original myth, and the poem(s).

Although not all work perfectly, my favorite was the titular poem representing Narcissus/Echo.

On Narcissus’s side of the page, we see:

“Was / that / a nymph?/ Was / that / an echo? / Leave me. / foolish pursuer! / I will forever be the / only /one / that/ I desire”

Echo’s side of the page contains:

“I desire / that / one / only. I will forever be the / foolish pursuer. / Leave me, / an echo / that / was / a nymph.”

Walking my son through these was kind of fun, you know, for a former English major. I liked being able to point out ways in which the words’ arrangement led to how the meaning was conveyed in the reverse. For example, we discussed how if it was written, “Was that a nymph / Was that an echo?/ Leave me” reversing it would lead to “Leave me/ An echo that was/ a nymph that was.” However, by carefully choosing the line separations to be “Was / that / a nymph/ was / that / an echo?/ leave me” the poet was able to order the nouns appropriately. This also let us discuss what words are important in a sentence as well as in a narrative for understanding the story.

As the nerdy mom always looking to try to talk my particularly routinized kid into trying new things at my suggestion, Echo Echo gave me a great way to talk his stubborn little self into reading some poetry in a fun and intellectually playful way.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book for review purposes. 

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