Poetry Activities

Read A Poem Backward

Most poems are read from top to bottom, but to switch it up, read it from bottom to top. Does the meaning or image change?

If you’re a teacher, have your students compare and contrast the poem by reading it both ways.

Excerpt from Maya Angelou’s "Phenomenal Woman"

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I'm not cute or built to suit a fashion model's size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I'm telling lies.
I say,
It's in the reach of my arms
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I'm a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That's me.


(First stanza from "Phenomenal Woman" read backward)

That’s me
Phenomenal woman
Phenomenally
I’m a woman
The curl of my lips
The stride of my step
The span of my hips
It’s in the reach of my arms
I say
They think I’m telling lies
But when I start to tell them
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
Pretty women wonder where my secret lies


This is an idea that can work with any poem. Some lend themselves more naturally to it depending on where the line breaks occur.

Some poems are written specifically to be read backward. These are called “reverse poems.” They are crafted in such a way that the meaning completely shifts by reading it backward. For those not written in this manner, it can be a lot of fun to find any change in meaning that was not intended.

Here's an example of a Reverse Poem:

backwards poem

More on this poem



Article applicable to: Teachers teaching Grades 3-5, 6-8, 9-12

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