Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Marilyn Singer and Mirror, Mirror: A Book of Reversible Verse

Mirror, Mirror: A Book of Reversible Verse, written by Marilyn Singer and illustrated by Josee Massee, is a collection of poems based on fairy tales that tell two sides of the same story. But wait, there's a catch! The paired poems are inverses of one another, meaning the second poem is created by reading the first poem in reverse (hence reverso).

Here's what Marilyn had to say about this title.
When I was a kid, my parents read me lots of fairy tales and poems, so I have both in my blood. Therefore, it’s no big surprise that I ended about writing an entire book of poems based on these tales, MIRROR, MIRROR. Now, when I was little, I was not a big doll person, but my uncle gave me something called a “Rags-to-Riches doll.” She was dressed in a peasant costume with a patched dress, shawl, kerchief on her head, and no shoes. You took off the shawl and pushed down her skirt (gathered with a drawstring) and, presto, it was a ball gown! Under the kerchief was a crown. Dancing slippers completed the transformation. I’m convinced that that doll influenced this book because for it, I came up with a new poetry form: the reverso.

A reverso is two poems in one. Read the first down and it says one thing. Read it back up, with changes just in punctuation and capitalization, and it's a different poem. To create reversos, I spend many hours at the computer (I write most poems with pen and paper, but not these!) playing with words and lines--shifting them around, seeing what makes sense and what doesn't. But first I start with the fairy tale. I have to be able to find two points-of-view in it that will make a good reverso because the hardest aspect of this form is that when you flip it, the second poem MUST say something different, not just the same message in reverse.

Another big influence on this book and these poems is my love of word games, as well as old-fashioned board games such as "Clue" and computer adventure games where you solve puzzles. And I love to challenge myself. Writing MIRROR, MIRROR gave me the chance both to create and solve puzzles. And now I've written a second, as yet untitled, book of fairy tale reversos. Told you--I love a challenge!
The author's note Marilyn provides also gives readers some insight into the form and her process. Here's what she says.
We read most poems down the page. But what if we read them up? That's the question I asked myself when I created the reverso. When you read a reverso down, it is one poem. When you read it up, with changes allowed only in punctuation and capitalization it is a different poem.

The first reverso I wrote was inspired by my cat, August:

A cat
a chair:
a chair
a cat.
You can view some of the gorgeous illustrations and read more poems from the book at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.

I'm not only enamored with the form used in this book, but also the subject matter. After all, one of my favorite books of poetry is The Poets' Grimm: 20th Century Poems from Grimm's Fairy Tales, edited by Jeanne Marie Beaumont & Claudia Carlson.

Incorporating fairy tale poetry in the classroom is a great way to spark interest in poetry itself. The topic is familiar and lends itself to examination from multiple perspectives. That's one of the reasons that Mirror, Mirror works so darned well. The unexpected second perspective is often surprising and funny.

Most elementary curricula mandate the study of fairy tales and fables as part of English/Language Arts. Teachers have become pros at integrating fairy tales from other cultures and "fractured" fairy tales. It's time poetry became part of this study. For some ideas on integrating fairy tale poetry into the curriculum, check out these resources.
Before I wrap this up I should tell you I have a copy of Mirror, Mirror to give away. To be eligible to win you must leave a suggestion for reading or writing fairy tale poems in the classroom on this post, or leave a question for Marilyn on the post More on Marilyn Singer and Poetry. The winner will be randomly drawn from these comments on Monday.

Poem ©Marilyn Singer. All rights reserved.


  1. It's a lovely book. Finally got one in my library today!

    Great post. Thanks.

  2. Yesterday's and today's posts are wonderful, and the links here are terrific. I've already ordered Marilyn's book. Do you remember Fractured Fairy Tales from the Rocky and Bullwinkle show of long ago? I used to love those wacky tales.