Consonants and Vowels form Constant Vows

Since the news has apparently reached a certain social network (of which I am not a member), I’ll mention on here that with a minimum of fuss and no prior announcement, Flourish Klink and I got married today.

A challenge that arose was writing wedding vows that captured that essential and positive semantics of the traditional statements, but which acknowledged that two people can be, in some ways, opposites, looking at things from different directions while also agreeing to live as partners and to make the same commitment to one another.

Of course, it would have been more challenging, and perhaps more amusing, if I had followed this writing constraint and also added a promise to “obey” to Flourish’s vow. Texts of this sort often are especially pleasing when they change their meaning from first half to second half. But for this particular purpose, the point is really the make the two halves equal in meaning, even if the language itself is less varied as a result.


All through good and bad times, through sickness and health, through all, yes, I will love and honor. Will I? Yes.

Yes, I will honor and love. Will I? Yes. All through health and sickness, through times bad and good, through all.

Symmys: Ymmy, Ymmy Symmys

I send you, dear readers, the press release from Mark Saltveit
(palindromist, editor of The Palindromist, and stand-up comic) about yesterday’s award ceremonies, complete with amusing references to me – and I send my congratulations to Aric Maddux and the other winners!

Palindromes Win at SymmyS Awards

Shock as First-time Writer Takes Grand Prize With Serious Message On Pill Addiction; Discovered Via Tweet


Aric Maddux of Indianapolis, Indiana won the Grand Prize for Best Palindrome at
the 2012 SymmyS Awards Sunday night with the first palindrome he ever wrote.
His winning entry, a rare “word-unit palindrome,” was a dark warning about the
dangers of prescription pill addiction:

“You swallow pills for anxious days and nights, and days, anxious for pills, swallow you.”

Maddux, a computer technician and poet, tweeted his debut effort to Professor Nick Montfort of M.I.T.,
who took fourth place in Will Shortz’ World Palindrome Championship last year. Montfort, recognizing
Maddux’ talent, nominated the beginner for the SymmyS – and then lost to him in the finals.
Any Ymmy Award (the singular of SymmyS) was awarded in four categories — Short, Long, Poetic, and
Word-Unit Palindromes – in addition to the Grand Prize for Best Overall Palindrome.

Maddux spoiled an otherwise dominating night for Australian Martin Clear, who won the Long
Palindrome YmmY outright, tied for first in Poetry, and placed second in both Short and Long
Palindromes. He wrote fully 10 of the 40 total finalist entries, spread among all four categories. Clear’s
short palindrome, which came within half a point of winning that division, dipped into pop culture:

“I made Rihanna hirsute, familiar, frail: I’m a fetus Rihanna hired, am I?”

Popular author Jon Agee (“Go Hang A Salami, I’m a Lasagna Hog”) won first and third place in Short
Palindromes, scoring with both “A Slightly Violent To-Do List” and this “Igloo Dialogue:”

“’An igloo costs a lot, Ed!’
‘Amen. One made to last! So cool, Gina!’”

Statistics professor John Connett, of the University of Minnesota, took both 3rd and 2nd place in the
Word-Unit category with an unprintable entry and with this epigram:

Fishing for excuses? No need. You need no excuses for fishing.

A word-unit palindrome is one where entire words reverse, instead of individual letters. The motto of
the Three Musketeers — “One for all, and all for one!” – is a famous example. “Surprisingly,” Saltveit
noted, “the fiercest competition was among the word-unit palindromes. Before this competition, they
did not get a lot of attention. Nick Montfort has worked hard to popularize them, and it ended up
costing him an Ymmy.”

The Symmys are produced by The Palindromist Magazine, the world’s leading palindrome periodical.
Hundreds of entries were assembled from direct submissions to the magazine as well as a worldwide
search for new talent. Competitors hailed from Australia, the United Kingdom and the U.S.
“We created these awards to showcase the great new palindromes being written every year,” explained
to Palindromist Editor Mark Saltveit. “Many people think all the good palindromes were written years
ago. These great new works show how wrong that is. And word-unit palindromes are a good way for a
beginner to get involved, as Aric showed tonight.“

The night’s biggest controversy involved the disqualification of an entry. A little-known article in a 1984
issue of Word Ways magazine was found to have a palindrome very similar to a Short Palindrome
contender by the little-known Anne Tenna.
“Ottoman Empire: We Rip Men!” (a motto)
Tenna’s entry was leading the category and in second place for the grand prize at the time of its
disqualification. “No one is suggesting plagiarism,” noted Palindromist Editor Mark Saltveit. “The
earlier palindrome was very obscure, and parallel invention is not uncommon. But we hold the highest
standards for originality, and this entry had to be withdrawn.” Tenna nonetheless tied for first place in
the Poetry category, and had four nominations total.

The ceremony, held at Portland, Oregon’s Funhouse Art and Beer Cabaret, featured Los Angeles
comedian Dax Jordan, star of the upcoming show DaxTV on the MavTV network, and tap dancing
saxophonist Michael “Shoehorn” Conley. Both added original palindromes, written for the occasion, to
their performances.

The panel of judges was a murderer’s row of wordplay and geek celebrities, including puzzle master Will
Shortz, “Weird Al” Yankovic, comedian/author Demetri Martin, comedian Jackie Kashian, musician John
Flansburgh, journalists Jack Rosenthal and Ben Zimmer, and palindromists Tim Van Ert and Jeff Grant.


Full details are available on the website of The Palindromist Magazine, including:
Biographies and photos of the contestants; Biographies and photos of the judges; A full list of winners;
and A full list of the nominated palindromes (10 in each of four categories).

The Winter Anthology is Out

This winter’s Winter Anthology, a collection of contemporary literature informed by history and older art, 21st century science and philosophy, and the ending of print culture, is now out.

This is volume three, and contains work by Joanna Howard, Andrew Zawacki, Andrew Grace, Ryan Flaherty, Srikanth Reddy, Ponç Pons, Lee Posna
Louis Armand, Dan Beachy-Quick, Steven Toussaint, and Nick Montfort & Stephanie Strickland.

I’m delighted to have our poetry generator “Sea and Spar Between” published in this context.

How to Buy Some of My Most Obscure Books

2002: A Palindrome Story

By Nick Montfort and William Gillespie. Illustrated by Shelley Jackson. Designed by Ingrid Ankerson. (24 pp., acknowledged by the Oulipo as the longest literary palindrome.) Spineless Books, 2002. $16.

The First M Numbers.

By Nick Montfort. Edition of 80. 4 pp. No Press, Calgary, Canada, 2013. $2.50.

In New York, Saint Mark’s Bookshop has copies of these two books for sale; in Cambridge, MA, they are available from the MIT Press Bookstore. 2002 is also available from the publisher, Spineless Books, and other online and local bookstores. I believe that No Press is out of copies of The First M Numbers.

Implementation: A Novel

By Nick Montfort and Scott Rettberg. (270 pp., a 4-color book documenting the 2004 project Implementation.) 2012. $77.95.

This book is only available for purchase directly from the printer, Blurb.

An Auto-Interview about All the Way for the Win

Poet Michael Leong “tagged” me, not by spray-painting me or by assigning me a folksonomical string, but by sending me the following template of interview questions. This process is part of the project “The Next Big Thing,” in which people answer robotic, monomaniacal questions about recent or forthcoming books. I was supposed to post this on Wednesday, apparently, so it’s a good thing that I can set the date arbitrarily on my blog posts.

What is the working title of the book?
All the Way for the Win.

Where did the idea come from for the book?
Decades of intense poetic engagement with the English language.

What genre does your book fall under?
In terms of literary tradition, it’s an example of the sort of constrained writing that was pioneered by the Oulipo; in terms of the retail channel, it will end up in the poetry section if anywhere.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
Mos Def, Zhu Zhu, Rex Lee, Won Bin, and (although I don’t think he’s a member of the SAG) Tan Lin.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?
A book written using only three-letter words.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
I haven’t written anything close to a complete draft. I’ve only been working on the project seriously for about four years.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
All the Way for the Win is 0% inspiration.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
The English langauge bursts with words brought to us by commerce and colonialism, is scarred by decades of wars and invasions, and both traces and propels our thinking as a culture. It is an urgent and important project to find principled, unusual subsets of this language and to make new works out of these, revealing qualities of our language through poetic practice. Readers of this book may also considerably improve their Scrabble play.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?