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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 support and enthusiasm.

Starting now, the Poetry Fishbowl is open!  Today's theme is "alternate history."  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.

Alternate history is an interstitial genre existing at the crossroads between historical fiction ("How was?") and speculative fiction ("What if?").  It usually relies on identifying a key moment in history and asking what could have changed and how that would have affected the outcome, although there are different approaches as well.  (The terms "linchpin" and "ripple point" for these appear in the game Chrononauts, which I highly recommend.)  AlternateHistory.com has a discussion forum for this genre.  Uchronia lists books and stories about alternate history.  Other Timelines has a "Today in Alternate History" feature along with other resources.  This genre also works well with ethnic history, gender history, and other under-represented groups.  Tell ALL the stories!

Watch for the linkbacks perk to go live.  Click to read "The Charlady's Tale" (The Steamsmith, 17 verses) or notify dreamwriteremmy of linkbacks to reveal more verses.

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 "alternate history." 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) Swim, Fishie, Swim! -- A new feature in conjunction with fishbowl sponsorship is this progress meter showing the amount donated.  There are multiple perks, the top one being a half-price poetry sale on one series when donations reach $300.

3) 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.

4) 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"

5) Spread the word. Echo or link to this post on your LiveJournal, other blog, Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, Digg, StumbleUpon, or any other social network.  Useful Twitter hashtags include #poetryfishbowl and #promptcall.  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.

Linkback perk: I have a spare series poem available, and each linkback will reveal a verse of the poem.  One person can do multiple links if they're on different services, like Dreamwidth or Twitter, rather than all on LiveJournal.  dreamwriteremmy has volunteered to post the verses this month, so you'll need to notify her of your linkbacks in a comment to her post, in order for them to count.  "The Charlady's Tale" belongs to The Steamsmith series and has 17 verses.

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 $100 by Friday evening then you get a free $15 poem; $150 gets you a free $20 poem; and $200 gets you a free epic, posted after the Poetry Fishbowl.  These will usually be series poems if I have them; otherwise I may offer non-series poems or series poems in a different size.  If donations reach $250, you get one step toward a bonus fishbowl; three of these activates the perk, and they don't have to be three months in a row.  Everyone will get to vote on which series, and give prompts during the extra fishbowl, although it may be a half-day rather than a whole day.  If donations reach $300, you get a half-price sale for one week in one series.  Everyone will get to vote on which series to feature in the sale, out of those with extra poems available.

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 "alternate history."  I'll be soliciting ideas for historical figures, historians, time travelers, ancient objects, probability machines, time machines, books and other records, things associated with a specific point in history, time periods, cultures you'd like me to feature (if I haven't promoted your favorite one to world domination, now's your chance), battlefields, laboratories, schools, other places where historical events occur, turning points in history where things could've gone quite differently, events that inspire people to want changes, 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 additional perks at $100-$300 in donations.  Linkbacks reveal verses of "The Charlady's Tale.") The rest of the poems will go into my archive for magazine submission, or for serial poems, get unlinked listings on the Serial Poetry page.

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62 comments or Leave a comment
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je_reviens From: je_reviens Date: July 3rd, 2012 05:16 pm (UTC) (Link)
I love this set of books I read a few years ago - in them, Africa was the world power, along with Native Americans. The came to this continent and built great plantations and wealth while jockeying with the Aztecs for space.

The Africans stole their slaves from places we consider the UK, especially Ireland, and considered those people to be savages barely above animals.

How about that?
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: July 3rd, 2012 06:23 pm (UTC) (Link)


The prompt about African and Aztec world powers meshed neatly with an established vector from Schrodinger's Heroes. "Chromatic Shrift" is a free-verse poem about an invasion of slave raiders from another dimension, and the unlikely allies found to help repel them. Very dark, creepy stuff.

66 lines, Buy It Now = $33
ellenmillion From: ellenmillion Date: July 3rd, 2012 05:40 pm (UTC) (Link)
Only Earth history? Or other histories?

Such as - what if the North had connected with other shards before the Empire was created on Torn World? Or if the Roluma had assimilated the Duurludirj first? (We'd all be riding birds!)

Near and dear to my heart, what if Alaska had never been sold to the US?

If the Challenger had not exploded, or alternately, if Apollo 11 had?
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: July 3rd, 2012 06:47 pm (UTC) (Link)


I loved the prompt about Roluma, a favorite setting of mine in Torn World. So I wrote "Shards of a Different Past" and posted it as today's freebie.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: July 3rd, 2012 05:44 pm (UTC) (Link)


thesilentpoet left me a backchannel prompt about the tea wars in our China/Italy series. The result is "The Tea Tempest," which explores how differently that trade conflict might go in world where, united, China and Italy are major powers.

29 lines, Buy It Now = $15
aldersprig From: aldersprig Date: July 3rd, 2012 05:47 pm (UTC) (Link)
What if, say, the Iroquois or another East-coast tribe developed sea travel first?

What if the Cold War hadn't ended?

What if we hadn't stopped the Space Race?

What if we'd focused on physical health advances and prosthetics the way we focused on smaller more complicated cell phones?

What if the Dark Ages hadn't happened?

What if they'd never ended?

What if WWII had lasted longer?

What if Christianity had never spread?

Tír na Cali is based, in part on a what-if: what if the US had fractured in more than one direction during the Civil War?

What if there were really wizards and witches running things?
janetmiles From: janetmiles Date: July 3rd, 2012 05:53 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oooh, these are all really cool ones.
janetmiles From: janetmiles Date: July 3rd, 2012 05:57 pm (UTC) (Link)
Okay, piggybacking off of aldersprig, what if we'd gotten the criminals and Australia had gotten the Puritans? (This is not original to me; I saw it in an essay by an Australian, I think during the second Bush administration.)

What if there hadn't been an extinction event that took out the dinosaurs?

What if I were elected Empress?
aldersprig From: aldersprig Date: July 3rd, 2012 06:08 pm (UTC) (Link)
Hey, I want to be elected Empress!!

What if President were elected by the interwebs?
siege From: siege Date: July 3rd, 2012 06:10 pm (UTC) (Link)
Laquerware: The first military computer, and the outcome of its existence.

"Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" is a secret history film (proposing that President Lincoln and the Civil War were secretly about vampirism and human-herding rather than nationalism and black slavery). How would such a story be different as an alternate history wherein vampires were herding humans in secret around that time?

What would have happened if Native Americans had not been decimated by plague shortly before white men began to settle on their continent?
je_reviens From: je_reviens Date: July 3rd, 2012 07:13 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh man.

What if the Nazi's were actually vampires and werewolves in a mix? Like they suck the blood AND eat the flesh. And they didn't gas the Jews... they just decided to herd them. Like cattle. To eat. OMG. *shudder*

Brain stop, stop stop... I DON'T LIKE THIS GAME ANYMOAR.
je_reviens From: je_reviens Date: July 3rd, 2012 06:15 pm (UTC) (Link)
What if Elizabeth Barrett Browning WASN'T ill her whole life?

What if Jane Austen had lived longer?
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: July 3rd, 2012 09:33 pm (UTC) (Link)


Of course I had to take the prompt about Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and I posited a very different life with her growing up on her family's holdings in Jamaica. The free-verse poem "Di Yus of Im Tel" (that's part of a Creole saying) deals with her awareness of different facets of Jamaican culture.

40 lines, Buy It Now = $15
kyleri From: kyleri Date: July 3rd, 2012 06:30 pm (UTC) (Link)
What if the Miniconjou had had a chance to use the Ghost Dance at Wounded Knee...and it had _worked_?
je_reviens From: je_reviens Date: July 3rd, 2012 07:13 pm (UTC) (Link)
LJ needs a LIKE button!
marina_bonomi From: marina_bonomi Date: July 3rd, 2012 06:47 pm (UTC) (Link)

For the China/Italy series

Who was the first ambassador from the Roman Empire to China?

What happened after the fall of the Western Roman Empire? The Chinese empire was fragmented too, was there a hiatus in diplomatic relationships? Did regular trade continue? What about citizen of one empire stranded in the other?

The lost legion What really happened?

The Tarim mummies Who were they?

Among the objects Marco Polo brought home from China there was 'the silver belt of a Tartar knight' and a woman's headdress. Such belts were given to the keshigten, Qubilai's bodyguard,the most likely way to have one was to be one of keshigten (there were about ten thousands, alternating in 3-day shifts), also, a woman's heddress was extremely personal, not something to be given to a stranger or an aquaintance, did it belong to Marco's wife? who was she? Was her death one of the reasons that spurred Marco's return?

And I thinhk that's more than enough. :)

ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: July 3rd, 2012 11:01 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: For the China/Italy series

From the prompt about the lost legion, I got the free-verse poem "The Lost and Found Legion." It tells how the legionnaires escaped to China, and how one of their descendants became a diplomat to Rome.

74 lines, Buy It Now = $37
rowyn From: rowyn Date: July 3rd, 2012 07:26 pm (UTC) (Link)
An alternate history without large nations. Where somehow, all the countries stayed city-state-sized.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: July 4th, 2012 12:21 am (UTC) (Link)


Given a history without large nations, I went with "Manifest Diversity." This free-verse poem explores how things would develop without the meme of expansionism, creating a whole different social structure.

34 lines, Buy It Now = $15

Edited at 2012-07-04 08:41 pm (UTC)
siliconshaman From: siliconshaman Date: July 3rd, 2012 07:57 pm (UTC) (Link)
What if Admiral Zheng He's fleet really did explore America [as has been suggested] and brought back enough gold to prompt the Emperor to forgive him and set off a colonisation of America by the Chinese, 75 years before Columbus? How would South America today be different, if the dominant culture was mix of native and old-Chinese?

What if Da'Vinci had a wealthier patron, say the English King [as he considered at one point] and the industrial revolution arrived early?

Suppose the Tunguska event happen a few hours earlier and impacted Northern Europe instead... and how would that affect WW1?

Suppose the Mesopotamian kings had developed their beginnings of technology, such as the steam engine and the battery [and some say a crude atomic pile] and developed an engineer-priesthood? What would Babylon look like then?

Edited at 2012-07-03 08:03 pm (UTC)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: July 4th, 2012 02:02 am (UTC) (Link)


I took Leonardo da Vinci into the Steamsmith setting, which runs to earlier inventions than our timeline. Maryam Smith muses over some of his accomplishments and compares them to her own progress. "One Man's Renaissance" is free verse.

(To be released after "An Amazing Carriage of Amber and Jade" is complete.)
the_vulture From: the_vulture Date: July 3rd, 2012 11:21 pm (UTC) (Link)
What if Native American populations had gradual exposure to European diseases long prior to European conquest?

What if periodic glacial advances hadn't forced Neanderthals and Cro-Magnon into direct competition for dwindling food resources?

What if 'The Big One' had actually hit the San Andreas fault in recent history?

What if the immortality potions that Emperor Qin presumably indulged in actually worked?
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: July 4th, 2012 02:58 am (UTC) (Link)


For hominid cooperation, I wrote the free-verse poem "A Harmony of Hominids." It's kind of a love poem about how two species fit together with their complementary traits.

47 lines, Buy It Now = $20
wyld_dandelyon From: wyld_dandelyon Date: July 4th, 2012 01:37 am (UTC) (Link)

What fun!

An unusual use for Time Crystals

Can your paranoid spaceships travel in time?

A Monster House time traveling house-feline

What if Planned Obsolescence was not invented--or was outlawed?

What if different intelligent species (multiple homimnids or variously shaped people from different evolutionary paths) existed throughout history?
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: July 4th, 2012 03:00 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: What fun!

For hominid species together, see above "A Harmony of Hominids."
tomtac From: tomtac Date: July 4th, 2012 02:20 am (UTC) (Link)
What if ...

... Marriage was never SUPPOSED to be about Love and/or Sex? Never, in the thousands of years of our history?

Instead, your marriage was -arranged- by your parents, all the time? ...... AND ...... Gay Marriage was also completely legal and acceptable, and one never knew whether or not you even were going to get a spouse of your appropriate sex?

Because it was going to be decided by your parents, for reasons of money and power. Not by you, and certainly not because you fell in love.

tom tac
("I know you really wanted children, Charlene. But Danielle is rich and her father owns U.S. Steel!")

Edited at 2012-07-04 02:26 am (UTC)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: July 4th, 2012 03:54 am (UTC) (Link)


From this I got "Nuptial Arrangements" which I've posted as today's second freebie because you are a new prompter:

Also I visited your LJ and friended you there.

Edited at 2012-07-04 09:44 pm (UTC)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: July 4th, 2012 04:36 am (UTC) (Link)


morrigans_eve left me a prompt over on Dreamwidth:

From the book of unusual ingredients I got the indriso "Revising History." It describes the book and the ink, and poses haunting questions.

8 lines, Buy It Now = $5
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