Glass Mantras (On Anagrams)

It’s glam hour!

There have been days, quite a few years ago, when I spent hours with the glamorous art of making anagrams – rearranging the letters in a word or phrase to form new constellations. Anagrams of words, names, phrases, shaping them into existing or nonsense words, names and phrases, sometimes into something vaguely resembling poems. Last week, on an impulse, I started writing anagrams again. And before I knew it, my brain was back in anagram mode. Here’s one result of this impulse, followed by some thoughts about the anagram process.

a meek glass mantra

let’s make anagrams –
man’s talk games are
smart! a glean makes
glam an art. ask, seem
smart: an eagle mask.

salt maker, sage man,
make “art” mean “glass
tear”. man, make glass
lakes! anagrams met
a slang stream. make
a slang maker’s team.
a meta-slang maker’s
garment: a seal mask.

melt anagram’s sake:
a meek glass mantra
melts – ask a manager,
a maker: slang mates.
let’s make anagrams
an art. make me glass.
grant me a seal mask.


I create anagrams the following way: I write down the word. I pick a few letters and form a new word which I write down next to the original. Then I cross out the letters in the original and repeat the process with the remaining letters, then repeat it again until all letters are used up. When I find a particularly interesting word I’ll often repeatedly start by first crossing it out of the original and work with the rest until I find a fitting way to shape a phrase around it. When I feel like I explored most permutations I may even add another word to create more options, and begin again.

Glamour Shit

There are words that are ideal for making anagrams. With four different vowels and a range of soft and hard consonants, “Algorithmus” – the German word for “algorithm” – is one of them. A good anagram word or phrase has several potentials: First, ideally, it is interesting in itself and has meaning to the person who’s taking it apart. In my example there is also the self-referential aspect that got me interested: the fact that the word “algorithm” in itself refers to a process of taking input data and working on it in a formalized way to create a different output. The same goes for a meek glass mantra.

iGhost Mural

Then there’s a semantic potential: new readings, hidden meanings that can be teased out and made explicit. Or, to put it in a more pragmatic way: meanings that can be generated from its parts, that the original word can be enriched with, from now on to be resonating with it. I often look for anagrams that have some kind of connection to the original – an ironic reading, a profound or mock-profound response to it, a funny remix, and so on. The process can also be used just to find new words, concepts and ideas.

Goliath’s Rum

Another aspect is the mental process that anagrams set in motion: I find that their creation stimulates the brain in such a way that it starts to constantly generate variations, even in the background. New permutations, or new words that can be formed from parts of it, creating an itch to see what can be done with the remaining letters. I feel that the state in which the brain almost can’t stop looking for new meanings gives me a glimpse into its nature: I can see and feel it at work – constantly looking for meanings, trying to make sense, recognising patterns, finding ways to read the world.

Got mail rush?

And finally, rewriting the original word or phrase again and again quickly gives it an insisting, mantra-like quality. Writing as restocking, only to cross it out again, almost meditative in its Sisyphean repetitiveness.  Reloading it, only to explode it in yet another way. My relationship to a word, a name, and its meaning, changes through repetition as much as reordering.

A girl’s mouth

Automatic anagram generators have their uses, but many of the above qualities are lost when generating a list and selecting favourites. The process has its own rewards, and different anagrammers will find different anagrams.

For me, just like an ear worm or a line of poetry that I can’t seem to hear enough times in a row, permutations of a word can lure me in, get me drunk on their layered potentials and tickle my mind for days before releasing their grip on me. It’s a benevolent intoxication that I’ll willingly submit myself to any time.

Raoul G. Smith

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