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Poetry Fishbowl Open! - The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
Poetry Fishbowl Open!
The Poetry Fishbowl is now CLOSED.  Thank you all for your enthusiasm.

Starting now, the Poetry Fishbowl is open!  Today's theme is "low fantasy."  I will be checking this page periodically throughout the day. When people make suggestions, I'll pick some and weave them together into a poem ... and then another ... and so on. I'm hoping to get a lot of ideas and a lot of poems.

What is "low fantasy" anyway?  It's usually contrasted with high fantasy, and can mean: small-scale rather than large-scale events, minor rather than major heroes, less rather than more magic, also sometimes stories set in a close analog of our world rather than an obviously different fantasy world, ambiguous rather than polarized morality, and/or a tone more gritty than glowing.  Low fantasy is about saving a village rather than a country or a world, about getting one or two people's lives to work halfway decently, about solving problems with the gear on your back rather than an army's worth, and dealing with problems that don't really have good solutions.  In the rain.  So for instance, the Fiorenza series mainly concerns life in a quiet little village, with occasional preternatural problems that get solved more by wit than magic.

What Is a Poetry Fishbowl?

Writing is usually considered a solitary pursuit. One exception to this is a fascinating exercise called a "fishbowl." This has various forms, but all of them basically involve some kind of writing in public, usually with interaction between author and audience. A famous example is Harlan Ellison's series of "stories under glass" in which he sits in a bookstore window and writes a new story based on an idea that someone gives him. Writing classes sometimes include a version where students watch each other write, often with students calling out suggestions which are chalked up on the blackboard for those writing to use as inspiration.

In this online version of a Poetry Fishbowl, I begin by setting a theme; today's theme is "low fantasy." I invite people to suggest characters, settings, and other things relating to that theme. Then I use those prompts as inspiration for writing poems.

Cyberfunded Creativity

I'm practicing cyberfunded creativity. If you enjoy what I'm doing and want to see more of it, please feed the Bard. The following options are currently available:

1) Sponsor the Fishbowl -- Here is a PayPal button for donations. There is no specific requirement, but $1 is the minimum recommended size for PayPal transactions since they take a cut from every one. You can also donate via check or money order sent by postal mail. If you make a donation and tell me about it, I promise to use one of your prompts. Anonymous donations are perfectly welcome, just won't get that perk. General donations will be tallied, and at the end of the fishbowl I’ll post a list of eligible poems based on the total funding; then the audience can vote on which they want to see posted.

2) Buy It Now! -- Gakked from various e-auction sites, this feature allows you to sponsor a specific poem. If you don't want to wait for some editor to buy and publish my poem so you can read it, well, now you don't have to. Sponsoring a poem means that I will immediately post it on my blog for everyone to see, with the name of the sponsor (or another dedicate) if you wish; plus you get a nonexclusive publication right, so you can post it on your own blog or elsewhere as long as you keep the credits intact. You'll need to tell me the title of the poem you want to sponsor. I'm basing the prices on length, and they're comparable to what I typically make selling poetry to magazines (semi-pro rates according to Duotrope's Digest).

0-10 lines: $5
11-25 lines: $10
26-40 lines: $15
41-60 lines: $20
Poems over 60 lines, or with very intricate structure, fall into custom pricing.

3) Commission a scrapbook page. I can render a chosen poem in hardcopy format, on colorful paper, using archival materials for background and any embellishments. This will be suitable for framing or for adding to a scrapbook. Commission details are here.  See latest photos of sample scrapbooked poems: "Sample Scrapbooked Poems 1-24-11"

4) Spread the word. Echo or link to this post on your LiveJournal, other blog, Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, Digg, StumbleUpon, or any other social network.  The Twitter hashtag is #poetryfishbowl.  Encourage people to come here and participate in the fishbowl.  If you have room for it, including your own prompt will give your readers an idea of what the prompts should look like; ideally, update later to include the thumbnail of the poem I write, and a link to the poem if it gets published.  If there is at least one new prompter or donor, I will post an extra freebie poem.

Additional Notes

1) I customarily post replies to prompt posts telling people which of their prompts I'm using, with a brief description of the resulting poem(s). If you want to know what's available, watch for those "thumbnails."

2) You don't have to pay me to see a poem based on a prompt that you gave me. I try to send copies of poems to people, mostly using the LJ message function.  (Anonymous prompters will miss this perk unless you give me your eddress.)  These are for-your-eyes-only, though, not for sharing.

3) Sponsors of the Poetry Fishbowl in general, or of specific poems, will gain access to an extra post in appreciation of their generosity.  While you're on the Donors list, you can view all of the custom-locked posts in that category.  Click the "donors" tag to read the archive of those.  I've also posted a list of other donor perks there.  I customarily leave donor names on the list for two months, so you'll get to see the perk-post from this month and next.

4) After the Poetry Fishbowl concludes, I will post a list of unsold poems and their prices, to make it easier for folks to see what they might want to sponsor.

5) If donations total $150+ by Friday evening then I'll write an extra series poem after the Poetry Fishbowl, and post it for free.  Everyone will get to vote which series gets a new poem.  July donors will get some kind of input into the poem's content; I'm currently planning to ask them for prompts, but it could be something else.

Feed the Fish!
Now's your chance to participate in the creative process by posting ideas for me to write about. Today's theme is "low fantasy."  

I'll be soliciting ideas for characters of minor heroes, antiheroes, sidekicks and second fiddles, ordinary villagers, henchmen, characters in that grey area between hero and villain, broken or mismade magical artifacts, unusual adventuring gear, ordinary items used to save the day, small-scale conflicts, side scenes from epic events, ways in which epics affect ordinary people, scenes that show off the gritty tone of low fantasy, solutions that don't involve magic, places where something important happened long ago, classic low-fantasy settings such as sleepy villages or deep forests, and poetic forms in particular. But anything is welcome, really. If you manage to recommend a form that I don't recognize, I will probably pounce on it and ask you for its rules. I do have the first edition of Lewis Turco's The Book of Forms which covers most common and many obscure forms.

I'll post at least one of the fishbowl poems here so you-all can enjoy it. (Remember, you get an extra freebie poem if someone new posts a prompt or makes a donation, and an extra series poem  if donations reach $150+.) The rest will go into my archive for magazine submission.

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83 comments or Leave a comment
angela_n_hunt From: angela_n_hunt Date: July 5th, 2011 05:34 pm (UTC) (Link)

A version of the story where Babydoll really is a badass, saves herself and all four girls and the wicked finally get punished. Somehow.

Because the little blond girl is not a victim, damn it.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: July 6th, 2011 07:17 am (UTC) (Link)


Okay, I just looked up the plot of "Sucker Punch" which I have not watched and will now go out of my way not to watch. What a hacked-up misogynist hairball of a movie. Clearly that plot needs to be fixed. Riiiiight. I'm gonna need a bottle of WD40, a whole role of duct tape, and some serious ammo to make a working plot out of that mess. This might take a while.
ellenmillion From: ellenmillion Date: July 5th, 2011 05:38 pm (UTC) (Link)
Something with bugs - either saving the day or acting as an enemy to be conquered.

Sanitation - not glamorous, but so necessary!

ellenmillion From: ellenmillion Date: July 5th, 2011 05:40 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh, and you've still got the gender-blurb towards the end of this post. :)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: July 5th, 2011 05:40 pm (UTC) (Link)


Elsewhere angela_n_hunt gave me a prompt about "You have been given all the weapons you need." Riiiiiight. We know that's never true! See how two feisty heras respond.

22 lines, Buy It Now = $10
aldersprig From: aldersprig Date: July 5th, 2011 05:47 pm (UTC) (Link)
I always had a problem with white knights. Their moral code never seems to allow for reality.

Grey knights, grey hats, grey witches, and grey nights.

Kitchen heroes.

The aftermath after the heroes ride through (There's a great line in one of the Black Cauldron series to the idea that, to a peasant, a great war of knights is mostly about ruined fields and ruined crops).

(related but off-topic: I always wanted to know what happened the day after movies like Independence Day).

Urban Fantasy: Truckers and truckstops.

aldersprig From: aldersprig Date: July 5th, 2011 05:48 pm (UTC) (Link)
Off of small-scale: tiny warriors. Fantasy in a terrarium.
natasiakith From: natasiakith Date: July 5th, 2011 06:10 pm (UTC) (Link)
"Don't open that bag. It's broken."
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: July 5th, 2011 07:01 pm (UTC) (Link)


From the prompt about a broken bag I got the free-verse poem "In the Bag." It involves a magical junk shop, a siege, and a catapult. You don't need to do the math because the two heras have already done that.

87 lines, Buy It Now = $43.50
the_vulture From: the_vulture Date: July 5th, 2011 06:38 pm (UTC) (Link)
I recall a day back in my youth when a group of my friends and I, on a lark, created ourselves as player characters using the GURPS role playing system, only to discover, to our chagrin, that almost all of us were negative point characters. XD

Most amusing was poor Terence (afflicted with numerous flaws in real life and perhaps one of the most sub-average people I've known), whom we calculated as having an astronomically negative point total (I think was something like negative 120 or so). He objected to this, but one of us convinced him that the point totals were a valid estimate... and then, after seeing Terence's resigned nod of agreement, quietly added another -5 points for the Gullibility flaw.
aldersprig From: aldersprig Date: July 5th, 2011 06:49 pm (UTC) (Link)
*smile* "(Friend), you're bidding your oblivious trait again..."

Self-games are an interesting exercise, though ours sometimes got recursive ("we go visit the gaming club...")
the_vulture From: the_vulture Date: July 5th, 2011 06:54 pm (UTC) (Link)
So... Just how many NPC grizzled barkeeps in the frontier regions of fantasy RPG worlds happen to be retired soldiers who still keep their sword/axe/club close at hand to deal with occasional rowdiness in their taverns? (And, of those, how many bail the PCs out of a sticky situation?)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: July 5th, 2011 07:17 pm (UTC) (Link)


I had SUCH fun with the grizzled NPC barkeeper idea! The result is "Where the Action Is, and Was, and Ever More Shall Be." It's written in unrhymed quatrains, and it tells how Dron discovers that retirement needn't amount to death by boredom after all. Full of wry humor. You've probably played these scenarios too. Cheers.

28 lines, Buy It Now = $15
siliconshaman From: siliconshaman Date: July 5th, 2011 07:42 pm (UTC) (Link)
Hmm.. low fantasy plus low humor? A dragon who thinks fart jokes are funny? [scary thought if you're the PC's, it's dangerous from either end!!]

Or how about modern practical princesses, complete with combat boots, sensible clothes and a black-belt in ass kicking. [Gods help the dragon]

Edited at 2011-07-05 07:45 pm (UTC)
marina_bonomi From: marina_bonomi Date: July 5th, 2011 07:52 pm (UTC) (Link)
I see I'm too late for a grizzled barkeep prompt, oh, well!

Honestly I think that the knight in shining armor (aka paladin) is most often played (or written) horribly, like being 'good' took no effort at all, prayers were answered immediately, miracles and wonders were ready at the drop of a hat, faith was a given with no moments of doubt, temptation didn't exist and one hadn't to struggle with moral dilemmas and personal shortcomings.

Could we see what 'normal life' is like for a novice paladin in a low-magic world, with training, and lessons, and community life? or maybe could we have a glimpse of the thoughts of a world-weary paladin veteran, in the same low-magic world?
haikujaguar From: haikujaguar Date: July 5th, 2011 08:40 pm (UTC) (Link)
I like this idea. :)
tabard From: tabard Date: July 5th, 2011 07:58 pm (UTC) (Link)
Occassionally it crosses my mind to wonder what happens to the families of those brave young heros/heras who sneak off to fight in The War.

Do they mourn their lost ones and go on with their lives? Do they strike out in search of them? Do they curse the lords and rulers who started the war in the first place?
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: July 6th, 2011 12:48 am (UTC) (Link)


The prompt about heras' relatives matched perfectly with the poem I just finished, "Shine On." So here is "The Ones They Leave Behind" also written in unrhymed quatrains. It picks up the perspective of Larn, who has just watched his sister walk out of his life, leaving him to help rebuild the ruined village. Because it's not the heroic figures who keep the world going. Despite its connection to the other poem, I think this one stands on its own pretty well, for anyone familiar with low fantasy and what a war typically does to the countryside.

24 lines, Buy It Now = $10
ladyqkat From: ladyqkat Date: July 5th, 2011 08:01 pm (UTC) (Link)
Low-fantasy? I keep thinking of something slightly fantasy modern-ish where the crippled and/or handicapped fey are the ones to save the village from the Big Bad Menacing Ogre/Dragon/Troll similar to Leslie Fish's song The Cripple's Shield Wall.

A fairy with one torn and shredded wing, a cat with balance problems, a Brownie who is frightened of his own shadow. Things like that.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: July 6th, 2011 01:37 am (UTC) (Link)


I liked the idea of crippled fairy heroes. Well, on "The Shortest Night," all the fairies who are anybody leave their sidhe mor in a grand rade. It's no secret. It would be a fine time to sack the place, but whoops, it's not empty after all. Anybody can be somebody if the right occasion arises. This is written in rhymed couplets with a sassy tone, and a fairytale-style moral at the end.

42 lines, Buy It Now = $20
haikujaguar From: haikujaguar Date: July 5th, 2011 08:44 pm (UTC) (Link)
When World of Warcraft introduced their new race the blood elves, visitors to their magical city noted that it a gorgeous place of high magic, research, lovely architecture, gardens, plush furniture and ease and luxury...

...and the thing that stood out most to me was that even in the meanest hovels, there was a broom, magically sweeping dirt from the floor. That said a lot more to me about the level of magical involvement these people had than any spiraling tower, no matter how whimsical its construction.

I want to hear about the people who do nothing but research and write out new spells... that do things like clean floors, listen for babies to be done with their naps, chase away pests from gardens, shine shoes, shovel snow, etc. I want to see the magic that affects the bottom of a society, its drudgeries, its most basic tasks. Because honestly, without magic handling those things, somehow I doubt magic would ever make an enormous palace, or support an idle class of wizards and scholars.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: July 5th, 2011 09:25 pm (UTC) (Link)


I was utterly taken with the idea of practical magics and their role in a society's level of leisure. "Wipeout" is written in unrhymed quatrains. When Jenina moves from her family's pig farm to the city, nobody wants to believe she can do magic. So she starts doing research in areas that nobody else is pursuing ... but everybody needs.

44 lines, Buy It Now = $20
the_vulture From: the_vulture Date: July 5th, 2011 09:02 pm (UTC) (Link)
Anyone here remember Robert Asprin's 'Myth' series?

Edited at 2011-07-05 09:02 pm (UTC)
kelkyag From: kelkyag Date: July 5th, 2011 09:29 pm (UTC) (Link)
<raises hand>
Those were my favorite re-read for humor when I needed cheering up for, oh, a couple of decades.
From: minor_architect Date: July 5th, 2011 11:48 pm (UTC) (Link)
I see you've had a lot of prompts about heroes. Mine features the villain - or more specifically, the villain's henchmen.

Not all minions join The Cause of Evil(tm) because they want to do it. Some join because they must: the villain is ransoming something or someone they love, they once truly believed the villain would deliver them from oppression, poverty, etc. So what happens when the hero arrives too late, only to discover that the henchmen have found a way to save themselves?
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: July 6th, 2011 03:15 am (UTC) (Link)


I get a kick out of villains, henchmen, and other overlooked characters. So here is "Following Along," a free-verse poem about a hero sent to rescue his young cousin who's gotten into the wrong sort of work. But he has a hard time catching up to the fellow, and once he does, nothing is quite as he expected it to be ...

123 lines, Buy It Now = $61.50
eseme From: eseme Date: July 5th, 2011 11:53 pm (UTC) (Link)
I like low fantasy. The story of the people just trying to keep their jobs instead of save the world.

Because I had a fabulous pie this weekend - what is the baker like? Not only does the poor baker have to get up early to make the bread for the village, he or she must surely suffer through making batch after batch of waybread for travelers and magic pies (possibly involving blackbirds...).

I am aslo curious about the seamstress or tailor who must deal with gossamer and spiderwebs and cloth of moonglow...
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: July 6th, 2011 03:44 am (UTC) (Link)


Oh, look! Dron the barkeeper has a neighbor across the street. Brilla the baker doesn't make fancy stuff like the palace bakers do ... but she does have one enchanted item on the menu. "Half-Baked Ideas" is written in unrhymed quatrains.

24 lines, Buy It Now = $10
kelkyag From: kelkyag Date: July 6th, 2011 12:43 am (UTC) (Link)
The miller's daughter whose father brags about her spinning in earshot of the wrong people.

The third son the whole of whose inheritance is a cat.

The children whose parents cannot afford to feed them.

The swapped-back changeling & human children, readjusting.

Cast-off magic items that have been damaged or never worked quite as intended.

Apprentices commiserating.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: July 6th, 2011 04:20 am (UTC) (Link)


The prompt about apprentices commiserating led to a scene in a Hiring Hall, with all the experienced folk out adventuring and the four apprentices -- bard, fighter, mage, and cleric -- whining about bored they are. And then they get a sharp look what the adventuring life really entails. "Ready, Steady ... Oh" is written in unrhymed quatrains.

24 lines, Buy It Now = $10
janetmiles From: janetmiles Date: July 6th, 2011 01:47 am (UTC) (Link)

Some quotes that sound sort of lowly fantastical

"And how do you know you're Jesus Christ?" "When I pray I feel that I'm speaking to myself." -- Peter Barnes, _The Ruling Class_

“This,” I explained to the Demon Lordz, “Is Suzie Shooter. Also known as Shotgun Suzie, also known as Oh Christ, it’s her, run.” John Taylor in Agents of Light and Darkness by Simon R. Green

…a terrorist attack is just a badly-placarded HAZMAT incident. -- James D. Macdonald, Making Light, November 16, 2008

The border between the Real and the Unreal is not fixed, but just marks the last place where rival gangs of shamans fought each other to a standstill. -- Robert Anton Wilson

Remember the Golden Rule: whoever has the most gold makes the rules.

There are three types of magic.
  • Philosophy: State an idea and defend it against all facts.
  • Science: Collect data, try to see a pattern and make a guess at the next event.
  • Engineering: Realise that the universe was designed by Murphy and was built by the lowest bidder.

ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: July 6th, 2011 07:00 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Some quotes that sound sort of lowly fantastical

I started with the quote about gold making the rules, because I've discovered a fascinating little plutocracy and want to explore it more. It makes for very different occurrences than a monarchy. So then I added prompts from laffingkat and haikujaguar about ordinary items made magical, and one from eseme about everyday workers rather than heroes. The result is "All That Glitters," a free-verse poem about an Accountant with Air magic. She ruminates on what she likes about her society and her job, challenges notwithstanding.

46 lines, Buy It Now = $20
laffingkat From: laffingkat Date: July 6th, 2011 02:41 am (UTC) (Link)
I would love to see an ode to those simple tools that so often save the day. In a past setting, it might be a flint & steel, torch or lantern, or rope. In a more modern setting, perhaps a Swiss Army knife, duct tape, flashlight, safety pin, or mirror.

Which makes me think... I often hear logistical problems blamed for military defeats. Do those who tend to provisions get the credit they deserve when things go well, or are they unsung heroes?

I think there were quite a few wars in the Fermo area; how might that have affected Fiorenza and the villagers?
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: July 6th, 2011 05:32 am (UTC) (Link)


I liked the prompt about how war might affect Fiorenza's village. A search of Italian history turned up plenty of wars all over the place, and it happens that Fermo has survived a number of sieges and other conflicts. "From the Free City" is about the aftermath of one, when a caravan of wounded soldiers passes through the village. One of them winds up in Fiorenza's care, and all is not quite as it seems. This poem is written in free verse.

79 lines, available after "Fiorenza and the Witch-Son" is finished

Edited at 2011-07-06 05:35 am (UTC)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: July 6th, 2011 08:36 am (UTC) (Link)

Done for the night!

83 comments or Leave a comment