Getting to Know Barry Duncan: Part 4

By Courtney Wagner

C: Other than palindromes, what are you interested in and involved in?
B: Keep in mind that palindrome writing is just the most obvious aspect of my interest in/preoccupation with reversibility.  It's my expectation that reversibility will change the world.  I know it can be done, and I hope I'll be the one who does it.

I try my hand at different kinds of writing:  songs, plays, children's books.  In fact, I'm thinking that all the publicity I'm receiving will make it possible for me to find an agent.  

I'm keeping my eyes open for literary properties that could be turned into musicals.  I like the idea of writing lyrics for specific characters in specific dramatic situations.

C: What impact do you see reversibility having on the world?  Are you talking about written word only or something else (technology? medicine?)
B: My belief / hope is that I'll eventually move beyond letters, beyond words, beyond the alphabet.  When that happens, perhaps I'll be able to solve a puzzle or decipher a code that will result in something beneficial.  I'm not saying there's anything wrong with being only a master palindromist, but my hunch is that it will lead to bigger and more important things.

C: What are some other aspects of your interest and preoccupation with reversibility?
B: I doubt that any normal person would believe how much of my day is spent looking for, thinking of, finding reversible patterns in everything.  I now use my cell phone to tell time.  But, when I used to wear a wristwatch, I would constantly be checking for palindromic times.  A great pleasure was looking at my watch at 9:59:59, looking away, then looking back at 10:00:01.  What a rare treat if I could do that twice in a day!  It's a wonder I wasn't regularly slamming into people on the sidewalk.

C: Very interesting. I hope you do find an agent!  What do you use as ideas/inspiration for children's books and song lyrics?  What type of musician would you like to collaborate with (specific person or general genre or even instrument)?  Or are you also your own musician (singer/songwriter Barry Duncan)?
*Side note*: Could you write a palindrome musical?!?  I'm kidding...sort of.  The idea sounds totally overwhelming but I just had the thought that if you let Monkeyhouse star in it it would be lots of fun!
B: It may be that I'm drawn to palindromes and song lyrics because both are circular and self-contained (and, to an extent, self-referential).  I'm rather confused by the concept of plot (or, for that matter, anything linear), so that's a real challenge for me.  One of my children's books does have a reversible component to it.

Writing lyrics, I'm more comfortable if I have characters in a defined dramatic situation.  I'd like to find a composer who understands how to write a song – in other words, one who has an idea of how lyrics sit on a melody.

I don't know if a palindromic musical would be possible (or advisable!), but it shouldn't be too difficult to build a musical that incorporates reversibility, has some reversible aspect.  How about an operatic setting of some palindromes?  It goes without saying that members of Monkeyhouse would be near the top of my list.  Uh, can any of you sing?

C: Are you working on any other projects right now?  It can be anything - work or not, fun things, upcoming things, etc
B: I look forward to a busy time this fall.  There's work to do on the dance.  Filming continues for the documentary.  The anthology The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2012 will include a palindrome of mine.   I'll be having a show at a gallery in Brooklyn.  Should be fun.
In addition, I'm writing palindromes so often and so quickly these days, it's only a slight exaggeration to say that every notable event in my life finds its way into a palindrome.  For example, here's the latest one:

             “Risk,” said BD.
              Ballet.  Revel.
              CW on C2C now.  Clever.
              Tell a BD, “BD?  I ask, sir...”

C: Tell me more about this anthology...Is this anthology being published this fall?  What else is included in it?Where will it be available?  Is this the first time a palindrome of yours has been published?  If not, where else can your work be found?
B: The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2012 is scheduled to be released on the 2nd of October.  The editor is Dave Eggers, the introduction this year is by Ray Bradbury (completed just weeks before his death).

The selections in this volume are chosen by high school students.  If I'm not mistaken, something had to be published in a periodical in 2011 in order to be considered for this 2012 edition.  That's why my Greenward Palindrome – which was in The Believer in September of last year – is eligible, and included.

The anthology is published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and should be available in all bookstores.  Yes, it's the first time anything by me has appeared in a book.  I'm honored (and not a little shocked) to be chosen.

C: When and where is this gallery show in Brooklyn?  What will it include?
B: Details of the gallery show are still being worked out, but I can tell you that it will take place at The Bogart Salon at 56 Bogart Street in Bushwick, Brooklyn.  It looks like the show will be there for two or three weeks in November.  There will be some palindromes, along with interpretations of the palindromes by visual artists.  And I'll be in residence there, reversing.

Like most of the things happening in my life now, the gallery show is a direct result of the Believer article.  Thank you, Andi Mudd and everyone at The Believer!  (The notable exception, of course, is the documentary:  Michael Rossi was filming me long before the article appeared.)  Peter Hopkins read it and had the feeling that I could do something special at his Bogart Salon.  I'm very grateful that there are visionaries like Karen Krolak and Peter Hopkins.  I was just in Bushwick to participate in Citydrift. The energy in that neighborhood is amazing.

C: I like my palindrome! Thanks! =)  In reading this one and in listening to the one used for Back Going No Going Back, I am reminded of poetry.  The phrases and overall character of them remind me of some poets I've read in the past.  What do you think of this?  Could you consider yourself a poet?  Would you consider palindrome writing similar to or a form of writing poetry?
B: You're kind to say so.  I'm encouraged that people who know far more about poetry than I do have detected a poetic quality in my palindromes.  (Peter Hopkins says I'll be the first poet to have work exhibited in his gallery.)  Earlier in the interview, when I said that I'm doing something different from others, that's what I meant.  Though I don't want to sound pretentious or full of myself, I like to think that what I'm trying to create is reversible art.

Gosh, I'm talking a lot – and your stop is coming up.  You've asked really good questions.  Thank you so much for giving me an opportunity to ramble on and on in a seemingly interminable manner about the subject I love so well.  If I might impose on you for a few minutes more, I have something else to say about poetry.

When I was young and foolish and had a hopelessly inflated sense of my literary ability, I considered myself a poet.  I remember struggling in vain in 1975 to complete a poem about “King Lear.”  No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn't get it.

Recently, I decided to attempt a palindrome about the final scene of “King Lear.”  It took me three or four days from start to finish, and I'm not displeased with the outcome.  What I was unable to achieve (going one way) thirty-seven years ago, I have now accomplished, going in both directions.

Duo lost in a O
Damn us
Ah sad locates in us
As I cradle her
I do show a regal lion
Evil a mask
“Cordelia,” wailed rocks
Am alive
Ill age raw
Oh so dire
Arc is a sun
I set
A cold ash
A sun madder
I moan it so loud

I am the master of the reversible world.  And everything is reversible.

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