Palindromic Sonnet No. I

April 24, 2013

A palindromic sonnet from 2112 AD, in which the poet, recalling a lost, golden age of food production, attempts to cultivate a burger.

Set a note– Don’t salt a burger up.

Set a pupa in a manic ass.

Mare slups a pupa pure, wets a pup,

Deific, lactates in alpine moss.

Upon a time, we fed on Agnus Dei;

Fed nude – garnets, aortae – mad-eyed.

Ah, burger – art, sacred lore – hops astray.

Art’s asp? Oh, ‘er older-cast, rare grub had

Eyed a meat-roast enraged; undefied,

Sung an ode few emit: an o-pus.

So men, I plan, I set at calcified

Pupa stewer, up a pupa’s pulse.

Ram’s sac in a mania pupates…

Pure grub at last – No! – detonates.


Historical background

This sonnet was written in 2112 AD, and reveals much about the culinary knowledge of the time. Following decades of environmental catastrophe, crop failures, mass starvation and the collapse of western civilisation, people resorted to eating grubs, insects and parasites. The poet clearly laments the loss of the golden age of food, when people dined on such delights as lamb and burgers, and in this sonnet he presents us with his description of an attempt to produce the mythical ‘burger’ by implanting pupae into larger beasts and harvesting what he hopes will be mature burgers – the ‘pure grub’ of the past.

The first stanza sets out the poet’s understanding of the process. Stanza two recalls the golden age, laments the loss of culinary knowledge, and recalls the legendary (older-cast, rare) grub who turned people away from carnivory by exuding a prized pus. In the third stanza the poet reaffirms his objective, and in the final couplet we learn whether he has succeeded or failed.

It is thought that the poet’s use of the palindromic form (if intentional) reflects the strength of his yearning to return to the past.


1. Agnus Dei – This means ‘Lamb of God’ and appears to be a reference to a popular pre-collapse religion in which worshippers sacrificed their finest-fed lambs to placate a fussy god. As such, it can be understood to mean ‘food of the gods’.

2. O-pus – A pus which is music to the taste buds. Some scholars think this is a reference to honey: as meat became scarcer many people turned to beekeeping, although honey-production skills were gradually lost and the bee larvae themselves became a staple food. Other scholars claim that the legend was a conflation of the honey bee and the popular pre-collapse singer Maurice Ee, whose hit album Red Rump? Murder! popularized vegetarianism.


Alternative ending/beginning, with L3-L12 variation

Set, as a recipe, fossil byre grub:

Set a pupa in a manic ass.

Mare slups a pupa, tops reviled mare cup;

Deific, lactates in alpine moss.

Upon a time, we fed on Agnus Dei

Fed nude garnets, aortae, mad-eyed.

Ah, burger – art, sacred lore – hops astray.

Art’s asp? Oh, ‘er older-cast, rare grub had

Eyed a meat-roast enraged; undefied,

Sung an ode few emit: an o-pus.

So men, I plan, I set at calcified

Puce ram, de-liver, spot a pupa’s pulse.

Ram’s sac in a mania pupates…

Burgery bliss of epic era sates.

Evolution of a line

April 23, 2013

During the process of constructing my palindromic sonnet about burger cultivation by implantation of pupae into livestock, there were a few lines in particular which underwent several rewrites. I find it interesting – and a testament to the endless possibilities of the English language – that it is possible to find different ways of expressing similar ideas palindromically. This also further strengthens my belief that there is simply no excuse for writing shoddy, syntactically knackered, incoherent palindromes.

Below I’ll focus on one line-pair (Lines 3, 12) and how it evolved. First, here is an outline of the relevant bits of sonnet structure and rhyme scheme.

L1. …burger up.

L2 … manic ass.

L3 Mare…pup/cup

L10 … opus.

L11 … calcified

L12 pup/puc… [‘opus’ rhyme]

L13 Ram’s sac…

L14 [last line of rhyming couplet]

L3 needed to express the idea of something beginning with ‘Mar’ doing something to a cup/pup, within the overall context of grotesque food production or animal husbandry methods. Of course there are a few other ‘up’ rhymes, but these two generally were the most flexible.

Simultaneously, running backwards through L3, L12 needed to start with something beginning with pup/puc, which had been ‘calcified’ (the final word of L 11), and then move on coherently towards the final couplet (which expresses the idea of a grub pupating maniacally and exploding), ending on something rhyming with ‘opus’. Also, the grammatical subject, starting in line 11, is ‘I’, so all verb forms needed to be first-person.

Phase I:

L.3 Mare’s erectile nob [lap] dilates a pup

L.12 pupa. Set a lid. Bone [pale]-lit, cerese / Ram

‘Set a lid’ is rather vague, perhaps an allusion to cooking the pupa. Read aloud, ‘set a lid’ sounds like ‘cetalid’, which I hoped might be some kind of insect, justifying the choice as a kind of holorime… but it’s not.

I realized ‘dilates’ could be replaced with ‘castrates’. The mirror, ‘set art-sac’, although an opaque phrase in itself, made sense within the sonnet as a whole. Another option was ‘re-wets’ or ‘de-wets (stewer/stewed) which also fitted quite well, but made L12 one syllable too short.

Another alternative was

Mares, erect, repel a penile cup

puce line; pale, pert, cerese / Ram.

I liked ‘pale, pert, cerese’, but the meaning of ‘puce line’ was too obscure. Then I discovered that ‘cerese’ is actually spelled ‘cerise’, so I had to abandon the Mare’s erection entirely and try a different track. The second half of the line could remain intact, but the first half needed changing:

Mare’s ebony nob dilates [castrates] a pup

pupa. Set a lid [set art sac]. Bony ‘n’ obese / Ram


Mare’s Ebola gel dilates a pup

pupa. Set a lid. Legal, obese / Ram

Phase II:

As the rest of the sonnet was taking on more coherence, I felt that these lines could be reworked for tighter coherence with the sonnet overall. I also felt that ‘ram’, which first appeared in L13, needed introducing earlier, otherwise its presence felt a bit random. I replaced ‘mare…’ with ‘Mary’s sassy ram’ which I then realized had been used by another palindromist, so I changed it to ‘Mary’s sissy ram’ – which also made sense because the beast lactates in the next line. I settled upon:

Mary’s sissy ram castrates a pup

pupa. Set art sac. Mary’s sissy / Ram

Two problems with this were 1) ‘sissy’ echoes the sibilance of ‘opus’, but is certainly not a rhyme. 2) The final rhyming couplet, which in a sonnet should be a self-contained summing up or surprise, was no longer independent, but extended back into line 12 – not a great crime in the scheme of things, but for a perfectionist this was unsatisfactory. Actually the original ‘bone[pale]-lit, cerese’ also created this flaw, but not so overtly.

Phase III:

I decided to return to ‘mare’ as the subject of L3, try and set up a ‘ram’ early in line 12 and also find a strong rhyme for ‘opus’ in L12. I settled on ‘pulse’ for the final word in L12, not a perfect rhyme but close enough, and it also led nicely into the final couplet about the exploding grub. So I then had:

L3 Mare slups …

L12 pupa [puce] … s pulse

There were some obscene options, e.g.:

Mare slups til lips castrate a pup

Pupa. Set art sac. Spill its pulse.

Looking for explosive ideas, I tried working with

Mare slups on a clover [clove/cloven] … e cup [a pup]

puce [pupa] …. re [e/ne] volcano’s pulse

But it proved impossible to fill the two-syllable gap in L3 with something that gave the three syllables needed for the L12 gap, and made sense.

Because pupae are central to the sonnet, I eventually went with the following, and tried various ways of filling the gaps.

Mare slups a pupa… e cup

puce ….a pupa’s pulse


Mare slups a pupa’s sap, tips sac-race cup

Puce carcass pit, pass a pupa’s pulse


Mare slups a pupa pot, tips sac-race cup

Puce carcass pit, top a pupa’s pulse


Mare slups a pupa’s sap− reviled mare cup

puce ram, de-liver, pass a pupa’s pulse


For a while I settled on:

Mare slups a pupa’s sap− mare’s one cup

puce-nose ram, pass a pupa’s pulse.

But this has a few weaknesses. It’s not obvious what ‘pass a pupa’s pulse’ means; ‘mare’s one cup’ doesn’t really add much (but could be a reference to the equine version of ‘two girls one cup!’); and ‘puce-nose ram’ is the wrong sort of ugly.

Finally, I have decided on:

L3. Mare slups a pupa pure, wets a pup

L12. Pupa stewer, up a pupa’s pulse.

‘Pure’ takes two syllables, and ‘up’ is the verb meaning ‘to raise’. I’m happy with this solution because L3 is nice and sloppy, and L12 manages to convey the idea of the pupa’s pulse being increased, leading to its explosion in the final couplet. I also like the fact that there are a lot of plosives (the ‘p’ sounds) in L12 which resonate with the final explosion! The problem remains that ‘ram’ in L13 is not set up previously in the sonnet. But if this omission mars the sonnet, the truly perceptive readers should be able to spot the extratextual ram.

Beef sonnet update

April 11, 2013

I have finished my palindromic sonnet! In the end the subject matter shifted away from beef to a dystopian view of meat production processes and the poet’s own desire to return to a golden age of burger cultivation. The Portsmouth News – the local newspaper – is doing a feature on me and my palindromes, and will hopefully be printing the sonnet!

I have not yet gotten around to writing the promised haiku about lettuce.