MIT’s Barry Duncan demonstrates the power of writing in reverse

Phrases have at all times performed a central function in Barry Duncan’s life. He’s labored in bookstores for greater than 40 years, reads typically, and has tried his hand at writing novels, youngsters’s books, tune lyrics, and performs.

Nevertheless it wasn’t till he stumbled onto the e book “An Almanac of Phrases at Play” that Duncan realized phrases might go backwards. The invention, which he made within the early Nineteen Eighties, set him on a course he would observe for many years. For enjoyable, after which out of behavior, he started reversing phrases he noticed in print, noticing phrases that took on new that means when flipped, and writing sentences that could possibly be learn from side to side — palindromes.

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Right this moment Duncan, who works as a employees member on the MIT Press Bookstore in Kendall Sq., has developed a fame as knowledgeable palindromist. His creations have been featured in galleries, chosen anthologies, and are the topic of an upcoming documentary. He’s written 800-word epics that don’t lose their that means when flipped. He’s written reversible poems and tributes that had been used as public sale prizes. And he’s written numerous palindromes to function presents for birthdays, anniversaries, and different events.

Principally, although, Duncan simply writes palindromes for enjoyable.

“I hope it provides individuals an thought of what may be completed in two instructions,” he says. “In fact, I additionally hope that individuals will respect them. It’s at all times higher if the particular person or group for whom you’ve written a palindrome replies in a optimistic approach. “

As palindromes have come to outline him, Duncan hopes to maneuver the traditional area into the mainstream and present individuals what’s attainable.

“The factor I actually need to do is set up palindrome writing as a literary type, to indicate individuals you’ll be able to write palindromes which are stunning and humorous and factual and have actual literary benefit,” he says.

Writing in two instructions

Duncan found a love for phrases whereas rising up in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. He started his first job at a bookstore in Philadelphia in 1979, and he’s continued to work in bookstores on and off ever since.

Earlier than stock was computerized, Duncan’s sharp reminiscence for titles and authors served him effectively. At the same time as memorization grew to become much less of a necessity, Duncan grew to like the ambiance.

“It’s at all times nice to work in bookstores,” he says. “You’re employed with intelligent, proficient individuals, you meet great clients,” he says. “After I left my first bookstore job in 1981 I believed, ‘I don’t want to try this once more,’ and now I’ve completed hardly something however that.”

One thing related occurred to Duncan when he found palindromes. He discovered the writing type attention-grabbing, however he didn’t suppose a lot else about it.

“I’d see a phrase and possibly reverse it, however it hadn’t occurred to me that you could possibly inform a narrative or write about one thing that really occurred,” Duncan says. “Or you could possibly learn a headline and say, ‘I’ll write one thing about that.’ I simply didn’t notice it could possibly be completed.”

Duncan’s ardour for palindromes grew step by step. In 2008, he wrote a palindrome in regards to the presidential election. Two years later, buddies of his who owned the shop Greenward in Cambridge’s Porter Sq. requested him to jot down a palindrome in honor of its third birthday. That palindrome ended up in “The Best American Nonrequired Reading of 2012.

“I abruptly began to see issues extra clearly in two instructions,” he says. “I began to jot down issues that obtained higher and higher and extra like regular writing, extra like speech. I began to see I might do one thing a bit extra refined than simply placing collectively some sort of clumsy sentence.”

The work started to satisfy in him a lifelong ardour for writing.

“Whereas earlier than I attempted my hand at novels and performs and songs, now that is the factor I do: I write in two instructions,” he says.

Since hitting his stride, Duncan has taken to carrying a black pen and authorized pad with him wherever he goes. To start, he writes the letters of the alphabet on the highest of the web page. He’s had concepts on the practice, at work, and on walks, however his most well-liked mode of writing is mendacity on his sofa, his authorized pad resting on his head and the letters swirling round in his thoughts.

“What I see is the center of the palindrome first,” Duncan says. “You even have to consider vocabulary. You need one thing that sounds as very similar to regular language as attainable, and your center is necessary, however you don’t need it to be apparent that that’s the place it turns, so that you attempt to create a center that’s seamless, if attainable.”

Right here’s a palindrome that Duncan wrote to commemorate the latest change of MIT presidents:



Is time. Rafael went, so passes.

Sally’ll assess a submit. New leaf.

Are MIT’s.

I laud 2.

“I at all times inform individuals if you wish to begin writing palindromes you must begin by reversing each phrase you say, each phrase you hear, each phrase you see, each phrase you write, you then begin to internalize that,” Duncan says.

Duncan calls something greater than 100 characters an extended palindrome. Something greater than 100 phrases is an epic palindrome. Then there’s the mega palindrome, one thing Duncan says he’s solely completed twice — as soon as with the palindrome about his buddy’s retailer (1,291 characters) and the 800-worder, which served as a twin biography of two colleagues from Harvard College Press bookstore.

“I wish to say that something anybody can write about in a single route I can write about in two instructions,” he says.

At house at MIT

When Duncan got here to MIT — a campus recognized for its quirky tradition — he says he discovered a house.

“I believe MIT was an excellent place to land,” he says. “I’m in a wonderful reversible rhythm, I appear to search out loads to jot down about, and folks appear to understand what I do. I like my job and really feel like I’m in an excellent place.”

Since coming to the Institute, Duncan has written palindromes for MIT.nano, the MIT Press, the MIT Record Visible Arts Middle, Tim the Beaver, and the Artwork, Tradition, and Expertise program. He’s at the moment writing a sequence of palindromes in regards to the MIT Museum.

“Individuals don’t see many good palindromes, so it’s a troublesome factor to get individuals considering,” Duncan says. “I’ll write one thing and ship it to the individuals I believe may respect it. I get nice pleasure in writing them. I’ve completed issues with reversibility that I hope present it to be a bit extra versatile than you’d suppose.”

A few of Duncan’s palindromes have moved individuals to tears, a response he says he’s humbled by.

“I like that as a result of I’ve at all times mentioned if I’m reporting information in a palindrome I need these information to be correct and if I’m expressing emotion I need that emotion to be real,” he says.

As he advances the craft, Duncan hopes palindromes develop into a extra well-known type of writing — and possibly extra.

“I’d like individuals to know that new literary issues may be completed,” Duncan says. “And I believe one thing may be completed with reversibility past writing palindromes, however I don’t know what precisely. In the event you might ever resolve an issue simply with reversible patterns that might be nice. But when that is all it’s, simply writing palindromes, that’s nonetheless fairly satisfying to me.”


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