May 4th, 2011


Torn World: Creating a Character, Part 1

ellenmillion has posted instructions for creating a Torn World character. This includes some basic information about the steps to take, thumbnail descriptions of several ethnic groups, and links to related articles already on the main Torn World website.  If you've been thinking about drafting a character, this is a good resource to start with.

Note, if you're a novice writer, designing characters is good practice.  Torn World is an ideal environment for that because you have lots of building blocks to work with plus guidance from the Canon Board.

In which a sparrow is a clinging bird

Technically speaking, sparrows are supposed to be perching birds, unable to do the stunts that clinging birds can do.  But they're smart little buggers.  The sparrows in my yard are entirely capable of learning how to cling upside-down to a suet feeder.  They aren't as good at it as the woodpeckers, but they are plenty good enough to get the food.  That counts.

Poem: "Prezzemolina"

This poem came out of the May 3, 2011 Poetry Fishbowl.  It was inspired by a prompt from eseme and sponsored by marina_bonomi.  A search for "Italian folk tales" turned up the story of Prezzemolina, a variation of Rapunzel.  Of course, adding Fiorenza to the mix entails some creative problem-solving!  This poem is a terza rima, a flexible Italian form with any number of interlocking triads concluded by a couplet.  You can read the other poems about Fiorenza on the "Serial Poetry" page of my website.


When Annalisa's belly grew full round,
She craved the prezzemolo  sweet and green,
So tore it from the fairies' sacred ground.

She bore a daughter fair as had been seen,
With rosebud lips and silky raven curls,
But word was taken to the fairy queen.

Two fate  came in gowns of satin swirls
To hound fair Annalisa for her crime
And claim for their lost crop this best of girls.

Then Annalisa ran through fields of thyme
To ask the herbalist what she should do,
So Fiorenza sighed, and made the climb.

She gave the fate  parsley bales and rue,
With starts of fine French lavender and dill,
And baskets full of bread and pastries too.

The fate  all sat down and ate their fill,
Then carried off the plants and went their way,
Agreeing that the payment fit the bill.

"Next time, come to my garden, if you may,"
said Fiorenza, "for there's less to pay!"


Torn World: Northern Waters and Drill Barnacles

There are two new pieces in Torn World.  My article on "Sea Monsters in Northern Waters" is up.  So is the individual article about "Drill Barnacles," now with art by ellenmillion.  More stuff is in the queue so keep your eye out for further sea monster goodies as the month progresses.  Artists are working on sketches of other sea monsters; we hope to offer illustrations of all of them eventually.

Poem: "Folk Tales in 4-4 Time"

This poem came out of the May 3, 2011 Poetry Fishbowl.  It was inspired by prompts from janetmiles and jenny_evergreen.  In case you're curious, green lacewings are among the top-rated beneficial insects for devouring pests.  For folk songs, I highly recommend "The Contemplator's Folk Music Site," a terrific archive with lyrics and music; but be careful, it can suck you in for hours.

Folk Tales in 4/4 Time

We set them to music,
The things we remember:
The flowers of April,
The leaves of September.

The ballads of romance
Have set hearts a-sighing;
The ballads of murder
Have left eyes a-crying.

For "Thomas the Rhymer"
And "Undaunted Mary"
We sing of true lovers
With tunes bright and airy.

But for "The Two Sisters"
And likewise "Tom Dooley"
We sing slow and sadly
Of those who slew cruelly.

The plots of folk ballads
Show off all their paces;
We paint ourselves fairly
In both of our faces.

For humans are nothing
If not good and evil;
We are the green lacewing
And also the weevil.


Poem: "The Library at the End of the World"

This poem came out of the May 3, 2011 Poetry Fishbowl.  It was inspired by a prompt from aldersprig by way of a link from haikujaguar .  It was sponsored by janetmiles .  All the books listed by title are visible from my office chair.  The reference to Alexandria, of course, is an allusion to the Great Library.


The Library at the End of the World


Dream of a library to end all libraries,
an ark of ideas to rebuild the engine of civilization.
Place it on a mountaintop or an ice cap,
surround it with walls of metal and stone,
out of reach of the world's wars.
Stock it with instructions on how to do everything.

Then look at the price tag.
Realize that nobody with that kind of money
cares about this kind of thing.

Forget about the mountain and the stone walls.
Think instead of a house lined with books.
There's a collection of Shakespeare
and a shelf of poetry.
There are field guides and cookbooks.
There are books on linguistics and foreign dictionaries;
there are picture dictionaries and ABCs
in case people forget how to read. 
Here is The Complete Encyclopedia of Stitchery
for the sewing of clothes and embroidered tapestries.
Here is The Potter's Manual for the throwing of clay.
Here are The House Book and Back to Basics
for homesteading skills.
Here is The Way Things Work with diagrams and directions
for all manner of machines and scientific principles.
Here is The Ever-Changing Sky reminding us
to keep looking up.

It isn't everything, but it's something.
It's a cross-section of creation,
a mote of hope as small as a carrot seed
yet as stubborn as dandelion music.
It's not on a mountain, but in a prairie,
tucked in a snug little ecosystem,
walls woven in a floss of energy
hidden inside ordinary wood.

The ghosts of Alexandria sidle between these shelves
and find themselves at home. 
Start where you are:
the tallest oak grows from one tiny acorn.

monster house

Poem: "Until the Cows Come Home"

This poem came from the May 3, 2011 Poetry Fishbowl.  It was inspired by aldersprig and sponsored by janetmiles.  The prompt about "the urban myth of the normal family" reminded me of all the folk tales in which some exotic being is able to pass for human, and seems perfect -- except for one flaw.  You can read more about the huldrefolk  online. The other poems in the "Monster House" series are listed on the "Serial Poetry" page of my website.

Until the Cows Come Home

The Solem family moved in
on a perfect sunny day,
taking the house across the street
with its green velvet lawn and white picket fence.

They were tall and blond and blue-eyed
with fair skin that never seemed to burn in the sun.
The wife and the daughter were beautiful;
The husband and the son were handsome.
They smiled with perfect white teeth
when we sent them a welcome basket.

They shopped in the local grocery stores.
Their children went to the same school as ours.
The parents went to PTA meetings
and attended all their children's games.
The blue lace curtains always hung straight in the windows
and the grass got mowed at the same time every Saturday.
They made friends with everyone on the block
and they fit in perfectly.

One day my wife huffed at me,
"The Solems are so normal,
they make my teeth itch.
Twice  yesterday someone said to me
that I should be more like Mrs. Solem!"

"Don't worry," said our daughter,
"they're not real."

My wife and I shared a look.
"What do you mean by that, sweetie?"
I asked carefully.

"They're huldrefolk,"
our daughter said. 
"I can see their cow tails.
Also they have 2.5 children.
They just don't take the baby out in public
because she's still hollow behind."

The next time we met them
strolling the sidewalks in our neighborhood,
I looked at them more closely.
Sure enough, peeking out from the mother's hem
was the tip of a tawny tail.

"Excuse me, Mrs. Solem," my wife murmured,
"but your petticoat is showing below your skirt."
"Thank you," said Mrs. Solem,
twitching her tail out of sight.  "I hear there's a sale
at Kiddie Kloset this weekend."
"That sounds wonderful.  We'll all go," said my wife.
"Perhaps you'll bring your baby this time?"
The two elder Solems shared a look.
"Well, she's a little young still ..." said Mrs. Solem.

"Just keep her in a baby sling,"
said our daughter.  "No one will notice. 
Nobody else around here ever notices anything. 
You'd think they were all blind."
Then she ran after the two Solem kids
as they chased each other around the shade trees.

"Your daughter is very perceptive,"
said Mr. Solem.
"She takes after her grandmother,"
my wife said with a grin.


Poem: "Backwater Tales"

This poem came out of the May 3, 2011 Poetry Fishbowl.  It was prompted and sponsored by laffingkat.  Yes, Cajun folklore includes a great many odd critters, and much of it has never been recorded.  Some people have made inroads, though.  Finding a third example for this poem took some digging.

Backwater Tales

The Cajuns know how to survive
in a world full of swamps and monsters and
men who don't mind hurting folks to get what they want.

"Be good,"
they tell their children,
"or the loup garou  will get you."
So it is that a man becomes a wolf
when he forgets his manners and runs wild.

"Be careful,"
they tell their teenagers,
"when you wander the swamps at night,
or the feu follet  will come lead you astray."
For you must always know where you are going
and how to resist dangerous temptations that pass your way.

"Be faithful,"
they tell each other,
"or the létiche  that swims in the bayou
will upset your boat and dump you into the water."
The souls of unbaptized infants weigh on the parents' memories
whispering about the chances they should have had but never got.

They don't write down
these quaint little cautions.
These are only for storytelling;
the were never meant for book-learning.

Let the damnyankees learn things the hard way.


Poem: "A Cryptic Zoology"

This poem is from the May 3, 2011 Poetry Fishbowl.  It was prompted by siege and sponsored by laffingkat.

A Cryptic Zoology

Words are like the wind,
here and then gone.
Stories are like the river,
always flowing yet never the same.

Cultures bump shoulders
and rub hips.
New stories are born
and old ones shift their shapes.

The creatures that live in folklore
change with the changing tales.
They grow claws and shed horns,
put on tennis shoes and learn to talk.

In the cities or in the bayous,
along the teeming beaches
and in forgotten fields,
people get together.

Africa and India
do the bump and grind.
Europe noses in and
the Americas make hero sandwiches.

With every retelling,
the stories get richer and stranger,
monsters and beautiful daughters
laughing in the moonlight.

Behind them lie all those that came before,
spinning out into a cryptic zoology:
every iteration remembered,
buried in the bones of the plot.

Beneath them all lie the archetypes,
grunting and rooting their way
through the collective unconscious,
leaving us shaken and stirred.


Poem: "Moral Traditions"

This poem came out of the May 3, 2011 Poetry Fishbowl.  It was inspired by new prompter idhren24 and sponsored by laffingkat. If you like the idea of updated folk tales, I've done some in my own poetry and fiction -- but I also recommend the work of Rosemary Lake.

Moral Traditions

Time is not locked
in a crystal casket.
It twists and grows
like a beanstalk.
What we knew
when the world was new
sometimes changes
as we climb higher.
the patterns remain --
three brothers,
glass slippers,
swords and dragons --
but the messages
can be as different
as bud and blossom,
upholding fresh virtues.
The hero can be rescued
from a terrible fate.
The heroine can
save the world.
He can be gentle
as well as handsome.
She can be smart
as well as beautiful.
Sometimes two princes
or two princesses
share the kiss
of true love.
Sometimes the key
closes, not opens.
Sometimes the monster
is the man, not the beast.
Sometimes the bandit is
not evil but misunderstood.
Sometimes the witch is
not adversary but teacher.
Folk tales are
beans and rice,
gold and clay,
food for thought.
The tales we tell
determine what we
pass down in our
moral traditions.