Anagrammatic Poetry Form: Puzzle Your Thoughts

Photo of author
Updated on

Here’s what the Anagrammatic poetry form is:

An anagrammatic poem is a poem in which every line or section of the poem is an anagram of all lines or sections of the same length.

Anagrammatic poems are extremely uncommon due to their difficulty. They represent an interesting mixture of puzzles and poems.

So if you want to learn all about the Anagrammatic poetry type, then you’ve come to the right place.

Keep reading!

Anagrammatic Poem Type (Simply Explained & Examples)

Forms of Poetry: Anagrammatic Poetry

beautiful smiling female student uses laptop pc while lying on the grass outdoors. Education concept

Anagrammatic poetry is a very rare form of poetry in which every line of every stanza is an anagram of all other lines or stanzas in the poem.

Anagrams, for their part, are made by rearranging the letters of a word, phrase, or entire section of a written work to create new content using only the original combination of letters.

An example of an anagram would be “seal” and “sale.” These two words are anagrams of each other because they contain the same four letters.

Basic Properties of Anagrammatic Poetry

Empty open notepad with flowers and candles
Rhyme StructureRare
OriginAncient Greece
PopularityRare as poetry but anagrams remain culturally significant in games and puzzles

Features of Anagrammatic Poetry

Happy young woman sitting on sofa and writing in diary in the evening in cozy hyyge living room.

Writing an entire poem in anagrams is entirely difficult to achieve.

As a result, anagrammatic poetry may contain exceptions to rules of grammar or spelling for the sole purpose of making an anagram possible for the poet.

These can include replacing letters in words with more common letters that sound similar.

Though it’s expected, try to avoid this concession or unusual, awkward syntax that may or may not form grammatically correct sentences.

These exceptions can be forgiven when made, but a perfect anagrammatic poem would be one in which the poem sounds and reads as if it were completely natural at first glance.

Very few poets are capable of pulling this off consistently and the difficulty level increases depending on how long the anagrams are.

Rearranging a word to form a new word is relatively easy, but rearranging all of the letters in an entire stanza is a feat unto itself.

The difficulty enforces strict limits on creativity.

As a result of these factors, anagrammatic poems are not very popular among professional writers.

Anagrammatic poems should not be confused with vocabularyclept poems.

This similar approach, coined by Howard Berger in 1969, rearranges the words of a poem but does not rearrange the letters in the words.

Example of Anagrammatic Poetry

Beautiful young girl in a long blue lush dress is standing on the beach

Washington Crossing the Delaware by David Shulman

A hard, howling, tossing water scene.
Strong tide was washing hero clean.
“How cold!” Weather stings as in anger.
O Silent night shows war ace danger!
The cold waters swashing on in rage.
Redcoats warn slow his hint engage.
When star general’s action wish’d “Go!”
He saw his ragged continentals row.
Ah, he stands – sailor crew went going.
And so this general watches rowing.
He hastens – winter again grows cold.
A wet crew gain Hessian stronghold.
George can’t lose war with’s hands in;
He’s astern – so go alight, crew, and win!

The above sonnet, by Israeli poet David Shulman, is nothing short of miraculous.

Even writing an anagrammatic poem is an exercise in humility for most poets, but Shulman manages to pull it off while adhering to a strict rhyme scheme as an added bonus.

Every line is an anagram of the title, “Washington Crossing the Delaware.”

Take note that some of the concessions mentioned previously are on full display in this poem.

There are places where the punctuation and syntax are not grammatically incorrect, but the entirety of the poem is comprehensible enough to look almost natural at first glance.

Importantly, Shulman did not make extensive compromises with the spelling.

While the omission of the ‘e’ in “wish’d” is a bit of a stretch, it’s an incredibly small concession when considering the difficulty of the form and the length of the poem.

For an ordinary poem, fourteen lines may seem not long enough. But when writing anagram it represents extensive labor of love.

History of Anagrammatic Poetry

Floral frame consists of roses and orchid flowers and notebook

While the history of anagrammatic poetry is not well documented, the history of the technique it is based on goes back to at least the ancient Greeks.

The earliest known uses of anagram, both in general and in poetry, supposedly dating back to the Greek poet Lycophron in the 3rd century BC.

This does rely on a single scholar’s account (John Tzetzes) in the 12th century, but Tzetzes devoted much of his life to preserving information about ancient Greece, especially in regard to literature.

While the lack of corroborating accounts is problematic, Tzetzes is generally a fairly well-trusted source.

Anagrams were surrounded by an air of mysticism in their earliest interpretations, often being used to find supposed hidden meanings in names or even in biblical passages.

However, anagrammatic interpretations have rarely been taken seriously by the general public.

Anagrams mostly have a history of simply being a witty form of wordplay.

They were popular in Greek, Latin, German, and eventually in English.

beautiful young woman writing in notebook and using laptop at home

Anagrams were especially well-loved in the early modern period and still remain prevalent in some shape or form today.

One obvious example is the ubiquitous practice of puzzles based on them called “word scrambles.”

There have been some attempts to lay down the ‘rules’ of an anagram, such as in William Drummond’s essay On the Character of a Perfect Anagram, in which he asserted that certain substitutions and omissions should be seen as permissible.

Naturally, these are subjective, with most people having their own “cut-off point” as far as which letters should and should not be counted as “similar enough” to other letters.

One popular use of anagrams is in creating pseudonyms, whether for personal reasons (such as in the case of a pen name) or for dramatic reveals in literature.

One famous example is Tom Marvolo Riddle in the Harry Potter franchise, whose name is an anagram for, “I am Lord Voldemort.”

Tips for Writing Anagrammatic Poetry

Attractive redhead woman writing at a cafe.

While anagrammatic poetry is challenging and restrictive, that doesn’t mean there’s no value in at least trying it as an exercise.

Even if you fail, the attempt will stimulate your brain and test you on how flexible your vocabulary is.

The most commonly given advice for writing anagrammatic poetry is to first come up with a base that gives you a solid combination of vowels and consonants.

This might be a few words or an entire first line of the poem.

Try to avoid words that have rare letters in them, if possible.

Examples of letters to avoid would be “x” and “z.”

From there, try coming up with a list of words that utilize the letters you have to work with.

This should give you some ideas for what tools you have to work with and will give you resources to draw from when you hit a stumbling point.

As you shuffle the letters and words around, you may find yourself consistently wishing you had just one more copy of a specific letter or two to work with.

White cards 5x7 mockup with dry flowers

If so, reexamine that first line.

Is there a way to rewrite it that gives you that letter?

It’s advisable to keep your first attempts at an anagrammatic poem short.

Anagrams are ultimately a form of a puzzle.

Trying to master the most complex levels of any puzzle right away will only lead to frustration.

Start with very simple lines that only contain two to four words or limit yourself to just a poem of two or three lines.

Do not be discouraged if you find yourself having trouble.

Remember that there’s no time limit and no pressure to finish an attempt that isn’t working out.

You can always try again later.

Poet’s Note

Pen lays on paper.

If you value your sanity, do not make this your specialty.

The time investment needed for each individual anagrammatic poem matches a textbook definition of torture.

Comprehensive Collection of Poetry Forms: Craft Words Into Art

Vintage poetry book on wooden platform

Dare to traverse the entire spectrum of poetic forms, from the commonplace to the extraordinary?

Venture from the quintessential Sonnet to the elusive Mistress Bradstreet stanza, right through to the daunting complexity of Cro Cumaisc Etir Casbairdni Ocus Lethrannaigecht.

For those with a zeal to encounter the full breadth of poetry’s forms, this invitation is yours.

Start exploring the vast universe of poetic ingenuity with our comprehensive array of poetry forms right now!