There are some things I don’t like as much as people expect me to like them. Talk radio is one of those things, and poetry another. So it should come as a surprise (but only because I just told you this) that I was listening to talk radio a few weeks ago, and heard about a poetry book that I was then inspired to check out. Of the library. After renewing my card. (This is why it took “a few weeks”.)
The book is Reading the Bible Backwards, by Toronto-based poet Robert Priest. It sounds religion-themed, and I don’t do religion on the blog (or at all for that matter), so you might wonder why I’m writing about it. Let me give you a minor spoiler: there is an image of a DNA helix on the back cover.
The concept of the collection is turning around established cultural narratives. Many of the poems in the book are indeed Bible stories told backwards, and some of them are hilarious.
This is part of the story of the Tower of Babel told backwards:
And if someone
Unifies the language
We go dialectic, megalexic
We get all slang on them
And this is part of the story of Jesus told backwards:
And he wanders around
Giving people leprosy
And causing blindness
Some of the poems are non-biblical cultural narratives told backwards, even modern ones: There’s a vulgar poem (with dirty emoticons) called “Arse Book”, which I will leave to your own imagination. A much sweeter short poem is about The Beatles breaking up Yoko Ono (into laughter). But Priest also covers science:
But E still equals MC squared
MC squared still equals E
The geekiest part of the whole collection, though, is something he calls “meme splicing”. It’s a variation on “gene splicing”, but with mutations in words rather than in DNA. Pedants among us (myself included) might complain that it’s “meme mutation” rather than splicing, but it still works.
A small mutation might make the DNA sequence of a gene not that different from the original, but it could completely change the function. Priest does the same with words in his set of “meme splicing” poems: he takes two words that are quite similar in terms of how the words look or sound, and then replaces one word with the other in familiar expressions, where the meaning of the expression changes entirely.
Some meme splicing examples (these come from three different poems) below:
We support face-based schools
What is the angel of intersection
Mommy changes everything
See, it’s like one genetic mutation that can lead to an entirely different set of protein interactions and cell function. Many mutations are harmless, and likewise, many word replacements would not lead to hilarious results, but some do, and Priest found a lot of them and turned them into poems.
Another poem, about backwards land, strongly reminded me of a poem I wrote in elementary school about the “backwards animal”, who drank from a plate and ate from a mug, among other backwards things. (I got to read it out loud to a childrens book author who visited our school, and she said she liked it.)
See, I do like poetry, but of a very specific kind, perhaps. And it helps if there’s some science thrown in.