Why are palindromes so far down on the hierarchy of literary genres? Roughly speaking, they seem to stand at the same distance from the rigorous formal experiments of an author like Georges Perec as bawdy limericks stand to Shakespeare's sonnets. This may be due to their own inherent tendency towards bawdiness, which I think can be explained by the fact that one must make use of concise, monosyllabic grunt-like words, and these words tend, at least in English, to be both part of our core Anglo-Saxon heritage, and generally to denote less than lofty things.
At the same time, the formal restrictions imposed in palindromy do exactly what Perec's did, exactly what makes restrictive rules of composition interesting: they force you up to the boundary of meaninglessness, and so challenge you to find that acceptable level of near-nonsense that nonetheless seems to say something.
To speak for a moment not of palindromy but of homonymy, years ago I heard the spoken sentence, "A strict syntax limits semantics," but understood by this that "A strict sin tax limits some antics." As it happens, both are true. Now I think orthography is a sub-syntactic feature of sentences (perhaps someone can fill me in here), but the principle is the same: it limits the range of things that can be said.
On a plane yesterday, I passed the time tapping palindromes into my iPhone, having been struck, not for the first time, by the strangeness of many French abbreviations, in which the cropped part of a word leaves what's left with a terminal vowel: thus collabo, resto, déca, etc. I've always bristled when I've seen or heard the last of these, in fact a contraction of décaféiné, perhaps because it looks so much to the learner like some non-existent compound adverb formed on the model of au-delà, and also, perhaps, because I like the fact that decaf backwards gives us faced. With this in mind, I started tapping:
Face deep? Pee decaf.
This seems to make some intuitive sense. In general, though, the longer the palindrome runs, the further one veers into nonsense. Thus:
Faced foes? O, hose of decaf!
I've faced foes on a nose of decaf, Evi.
In the second of these, one would very much like to drop that terminal vocative, addressing a person whose name barely exists, or at least is not in our usual registers. But rules are rules.
It's possible of course to lengthen and shorten, by paying attention to the double effect of an addition on both sides of the sentence. Thus, from
Marc's face-deep in a milk tub. But, Kliman, I pee decaf. Scram!
we can obtain
Marc's won, face-deep in a milk
tub. But, Kliman, I pee decaf. Now scram!
Some palindromes veer towards nonsense in a useful and intriguing way. Others veer and seem to run aground, even though it would be hard to say what it is, formally, for a palindrome to 'not work', given that what we are talking about is nonsense. Thus
Wonk? I gut a tuba! But a tug? I know!
Klima got a tuba, but a toga? Milk!
seem to be failures, though my palindrome-critical ability leaves me unable to say exactly why. Here, though, is one with which I'm particularly pleased:
Broody, Baba Yaga? A gay? A baby? (Door B.)
It seems to tell a story, and a good one. Much of the narrative flow of it, such as it is, depends on the punctuation, and a palindrome purist might argue that the best sort of palindrome is one in which even that reads backwards the same as forwards. But as I've already confessed, I'm an amateur.
My all-time favorite palindrome is one that I did not think up myself. Here it is:
A man, a plan, a butt tub: anal Panama!
I like it because it is properly bawdy; it tells a story even as it balances on the brink of nonsense; and, most importantly, its story is a meta-story, riffing on that tired old palindrome about Teddy Roosevelt's designs for a certain canal, which I believe has largely been responsible for the Reader's Digest-ification of this otherwise promising genre.