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Birds, beasts, trees, flowers
Gnaws iron, bites steel
Grinds hard stones to meal
Slays king, ruins town
And beats high mountain down!
-- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit
The answer to Gollum's riddle, of course, is Time. It's the ultimate weapon of mass destruction, the lane down which entropy rolls. It is crushing and inexorable.
Most time-travel literature deals in motion backwards, sideways, or even looping. But there's another branch of time travel which focuses on the direction we normally go: forward. Even a brief jump is disorienting, which causes problems in releasing convicts from prison as they struggle to adjust to a world that has moved on without them and sometimes changed quite a lot. There's a term for that, jail-lag. The longer the time, the worse the effects. In fantasy, we have the old story of Rip Van Winkle, the iconic figure of forward time-traveling, who slept for at least twenty years.
My January 8, 2013 Poetry Fishbowl spawned the poem "A One-Way Trip," about time travel deployed as a weapon. Then chordatesrock wrote the haunting fanfic "After." In the future after a devastating war and a brutal victory, life ... somehow ... goes on. There are currently seven poems in this series, plus the fanfic; you can find them via my Serial Poetry page.
This is very dark science fiction. It deals in deep time, stellar time, as well as time on a human scale. Billions of years pass within the span of that first poem. The rest of the action then plays out in the far future. Not much science fiction is written that far down the timestream, because it's so hard to predict or even imagine what it would be like. I cheated a bit by taking characters from a much closer time, and wiping out everything else from their timeframe, thus creating a pretty clean slate to work from in the future.
As the storyline progresses, the protagonist finds a habitable planet and settles there, gradually learning about its plants and animals. Depression is a constant threat due to survivor guilt and isolation. But time flows only one way; there is no going back, only forward. The poems are written in second person ("you) and present tense, both uncommon literary techniques which create a sense of immediacy and immersion.
What are your thoughts on forward time-travel and the deep future?
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"First Day on the Trail" introduces a young ranger and her duties taking care of camp and the giant snow-unicorns. Learning new skills can be challenging, but you just have to keep taking it one step at a time.
"A Wild Wind" describes a violent storm, and not the usual snowstorm that these folks are used to withstanding. It's a good example of wilderness adventure, and scary for the young ranger.
"Youngest and Oldest" explores shifting social roles on the job. Suddenly there is an even younger ranger, and our hera has someone looking up to her. That's life; about the time you figure out what you're doing, something new gets added.
This series has a linear structure. You can clearly see that, although it has a reasonable stopping point after the third poem, it could also continue along the same trajectory if author and audience so desire. The poems have a consistent style and voice, although the tone varies from patient to wild to introspective through the set. It's a good example of narrative and storytelling in serial poetry -- and a reminder that not everything has to be about a plot of earthshaking scope.
"Lior's Dream" touches on issues of physics and family. Sometimes when you find what you want ... it's not what you should have, after all.
"Hal's Nightmare" is about friendship, family, and traveling. No matter how hard it gets, you keep going.
Together, the two poems cover the same central issue -- separation of two sisters -- from opposite perspectives. Lior and Hal each have their own reaction to each other's absence, and to the Schrodinger team. So they aren't in direct contact but are still involved in the same storyline. The two poems therefore function like the sides of a single coin. This is useful in serial writing because it allows the coverage of a single event in parallel rather than strictly sequential terms, although in this case, it is clear that Lior met the team first.
primeideal decided to explore the Schrodinger's Heroes project, a science fiction shared world with contributions by myself and various other folks. (For more details, see the SH menu page.) Each poem crosses over with a different fandom. This creates a cluster effect, showing how one series changes -- and yet remains recognizably itself -- as it interacts with others. Most of these I'd heard of, but didn't know in depth, so I did a little extra browsing to learn more about them.
"The Tentacle Monster Chronicles" crosses with Animorphs. The overlaps here include shapeshifting, interspecies dynamics, and morality. There is always something alien, and always something familiar, if you look for them.
"Taxicab Geometry" crosses with Numb3rs. Common ground includes linguistics, mathematics, and the camaraderie of intensely intelligent people. Who sometimes overlook sort of massive details.
"The Shirt Off Her Back" crosses with Revolution. Here the overlaps deal with power, technology, and fundamental alterations of reality. A particularly poingnant part of the poem comes with the triple intersection of the cultural idea of giving someone the shirt off your back as a means of support, the Schrodinger's Heroes use of t-shirts for characterization (Ash appears in this poem wearing the same power symbol shirt as in this poem), and the Revolution logo (which uses the power symbol for the second O). I only caught the logo when it appeared on someone else's television; I hadn't seen it before, and I was utterly thrilled by the precision of the match. The best crossovers seek out such direct overlaps and capitalize on them.
"All Politics Is Local" crosses with @MayorEmanuel. Common themes include cyberspace, parallel dimensions, and technology. This also follows "The Shirt Off Her Back," tying the two together with a connection within the set within the larger project.
"Who Let the Dogs Out" does not have a single direct crossover, but rather touches on a widespread motif. Black dogs appear in Harry Potter and Outernet. Black dogs also appear in folklore across Europe, variously associated with the Devil, the Wild Hunt, the Fey, and other mystical matters. Now in Schrodinger's Heroes, the core example is a not a black dog but a cat. However, traits can change and shapeshifting happens in the canon, so the poem deals with the weirdness of transmuting a cat to a dog, and how that affects the other characters. Which is a wonderful comment on wider characterization, because "Schrodinger's Heroes Are Cat People" is a fundamental if subtle aspect of the project.
The tonal variation across the different poems reflects the variation in the project, from the descriptions of the apocryphal episodes to the posted fanfic and poetry. There are serious bits, haunting and melancholy bits, whimsical bits, all wound through with an appreciation of science, intelligence, and diversity. It captures the unity of the original by looking at it from widely different directions. That's another hallmark of good crossover work, when someone makes a linked set of pieces like this. So as a series, it forms kind of a starburst shape, each poem radiating from the same center.
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Here is a direct sequel to the traditional folk song "Tam Lin." It points out some character flaws and leaps of illogic that really should have been obvious from things specified in the original song.
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In the spirit of launching a new series, I'm posting this poem for the first time. It came out of the
This is a science fiction series, whereas a majority of mine are fantasy; I'd like to diversify a bit more, but what turns into a series depends equally on what I write and what my audience picks. It takes place in my main science fiction universe. The primary cultural background is Egyptian, based on the main character's home colony. From there, things get more hectic.
I'll offer some suggestions for designing a good poetic series. You can take them or leave them; the only writing rule I've found essential to success is Thou Shalt Not Bore Thy Reader. As in cooking from a recipe, it is prudent to read through all the steps and make sure you have everything you need before starting. Then work through in order, although there are some places where you can safely skip around. Write down your decisions as you make them. This kind of thoughtful planning makes a series more coherent. You can, of course, just jump in without planning if you prefer to work by the seat of your pants.
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This poem came out of the February 2012 Crowdfunding Creative Jam. It was inspired by a prompt from LJ user siege about a rural commune with flexible sexual practices. It was originally posted on LiveJournal as the free perk for that session. Further comments and prompts quickly turned this into a series as people asked questions and requested characters of interest to them. You can read more about Hart's Farm on the Serial Poetry page.
This is history fantasy set in
First, understand that we're in a lousy environment for poetry. It goes in and out of fashion over the centuries, and right now, the mainstream has a very low opinion of poetry. A large part of this problem is because academics have painted themselves into a corner of the ivory tower by writing poetry that isn't very good on technical grounds and doesn't appeal to many people on aesthetic grounds. Teachers will point to bad poetry and claim that it's good, but the students often decide that either 1) their tastes are somehow wrong because they don't like the canonical poetry, or 2) the teacher and the poetry are stupid. Neither of these gets people excited about the great poetry that really does exist.
( Read more... )So that's what we're doing here, when we teach people to read and write poetry, to love it and celebrate it. We're changing the world, because "poetry sucks" is stupid.
So now let's apply this to serial poetry. A series extends over time, so it provides more opportunity for interaction and development than a stand-alone work does. While it's possible to write a whole series and then publish it, many serial writers prefer to publish a piece at a time so they can incorporate audience feedback. The poet starts the ball rolling with some interesting characters, a promising location, and a challenge that is not completely resolved at the end of the first installment. Then the audience gets a turn. They may say, "I want to see more of this person," or "I'd like to see the tone go darker." They may ask questions based on details and hints in the poem. They may request a favorite poetic form. This is a key difference between fiction and poetry in series, because form has a huge influence on poetry but very little on fiction. Thus if you look on my Serial Poetry page, you can see that my Asian-inspired series tend to use forms such as haiku verses, while Fiorenza the Wisewoman uses some Italian forms. The poet takes some of these ideas from the audience and weaves them into the series as it goes along, and the process continues.
What poets can do to make this happen: Write the kind of poetry that you think should exist. It doesn't have to follow anyone else's rules; it just has to express your ideas and intrigue your audience. Experiment with new ideas. Share your poetry in public venues. Encourage people to talk about it and make requests.
What readers can do to make this happen: Search for contemporary poetry. Talk with the poets. Tell them what you like and dislike, and why. Ask for things you aren't seeing that you want to see. Point out problematic elements and explain why they should be avoided. Follow your favorite poets or poetic series. Recommend those to your friends, link to them, and help promote them. If you have spending money, use your folding vote to support the kind of entertainment you like and the people you value, not some faceless megacorporation that keeps jerking with your rights. When you sponsor poems, choose thoughtfully the ones you think most deserve to be put before the public eye.
Now think about our previous discussions of structure in serial poetry. A writer can choose to make all those decisions personally. However, the serial format invites collaboration. The author and audience can share those decisions. This tends to produce less technical, more organic material. It may not be as smooth as something completely planned from the beginning, but is likely to be a closer match for the tastes of the people involved and it can take advantage of unexpected discoveries along the way. If you don't like the way that series usually go, you can go somewhere else. It's kind of like the difference between painting with oil and painting with watercolor. By giving up some control, serendipity comes in to take the series places that nobody could have imagined before starting. Of course, this works best when both the author and the audience understand the nature of poetry, the structure of serial entertainment, and the process of collaboration. Then they can work together effectively.
As in all things, there are advantages and disadvantages to writing poetic series rather than individual poems. When I first started the Poetry Fishbowl project, I wrote stand-alone poetry. I did have some prior experience writing related poems -- check out Queen Choufa and the Rebel Drones on the Serial Poetry page -- but it didn't immediately occur to me to try that. It was my audience who launched the serial work, when people started requesting the return of favorite characters or asking what would happen next after the events in a given poem. This highlights some of the main advantages: a series has more room to explore ideas than a single poem does, and can readily incorporate input from more people, so that fresh things happen. A series can respond to follow people's current needs, without abandoning what has gone before. It can even factor in contemporary events. Monster House has repeatedly drawn on American economic upheavals, starting with "Eviction, Noticed" which dates from the housing collapse of 2008 and continuing through "Dissonance and Consonance" which highlights teacher layoffs. A series fixes one of the main problems in poetry vs. fiction: how to capitalize on an established audience. I had been envying some of the other crowdfunded projects for their continuing support from fans. But the serial poetry made it possible to achieve similar effects. The disadvantages mainly concern organization and coherence. Series stretch over time, so people can forget what's already been established; it's easy to make continuity mistakes, and not all of those can be fixed. A series can also flounder if the primary person(s) motivating it should happen to disappear. With poetry particularly, some people just don't want to read large amounts of it, and will avoid a series for that reason.
Something else I've discovered is the development of series-specific rules. This can happen with fiction too, but I've noticed it most clearly in my serial poetry. Anything is possible -- but individual series make different decisions based on their characters, settings, and themes. For example, most of my series can move around in time; Fiorenza the Wisewoman and The Origami Mage both added prequels earlier than the first written poem. But Path of the Paladins has a very firm rule about not doing that, as expressed in "Stained" -- "We can only look back; we can never go back. We can go only onward." I found that one by running into it when someone prompted for an earlier event; it turns out this series will only allow those as flashbacks. Monster House doesn't name the main characters in the household, and consequently, that places some limits on who can be a viewpoint character. Trying to write from the perspective of the children's mother doesn't work because it's too confusing; the only exception has been the inscription in a Mother's Day card in "Mending Fence." The Adventures of Aldornia and Zenobia has the kind of rule I almost never set, because that just invites trouble; but these are my live, sane lesbians and they are going to stay that way. So if you're writing or reading a series, especially several of them together, watch for the rules to evolve. Those help distinguish each series from others.
Finally, please check out the crowdfunding business model if you're not already familiar with it. Crowdfunding connects creators and audiences directly online. This is an effective way to break the bottleneck in publishing that lets people get away with nonsense like "There is no money in poetry." Sure there is: in the hands of people who are dissatisfied with mainstream material. Offer them something different, better, and more suited to their needs and you will get their money. Repeatedly, if your series themes match their perennial interests. For fans, conversely, this means you get to read and buy whatever you want, not what somebody else thinks you should get to see. If you're interested in something that is rarely portrayed positively, or at all, then writing about it or sponsoring it can make a notable impact in that small field. This applies to all series poetry, because there isn't a whole lot of it yet. Everything in this field that you make, buy, read, comment on -- it all has influence and minimal competition. So make it count.
Are you a poet, a fan, and/or a patron of serial poetry? How do you get involved? What do you think about audience/author interaction in this field?
Communicating with Peers: Artist
Dickens and His Readers
How to Boost Your Audience
How to Make Constructive Comments
How to Recognize BAD Poetry
How to Review a Crowdfunded Project
How to Support Your Favorite Author
The New Slush Pile: How Readers Are Choosing The Next Bestsellers
Non-Cash Support Methods for Crowdfunding
The Power of Patronage
Resources for Editing Poetry
So You Want to Be a Poetry Editor
Telling a Good Poem from a Bad One
Thoughts on Rhyming Poetry
What is contemporary poetry?
This poem began with my post about "Always Chaotic Evil" races in fantasy, which led to LJ user marina_bonomi's thoughtful discussion. Together we came up with the core ideas for this piece of "sword and soul."
Basically, I looked at some standard tropes and decided that they were stupid, limiting, and boring; and that doing something different would be fun. So the dark-aspected "evil" and light-aspected "good" imagery is reversed, with the location in a fantasy-Africa instead of a fantasy-Europe. The objects of power, plot dynamics, problem-solving approaches, beauty standards, voice, etc. all derive from African perspectives, mainly Akan. In terms of poetic techniques, look for repetition, mythic imagery, and strong cadence -- all features typical of African poetry.
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This poem came out of the
One interesting thing is that this poem contains a number of cliffhangers between verses, and some of those came up during the crowdfunding process. That helped encourage more donations. After verse 12 is a notable one, and after 17 another. It's kind of fun to look for these potential cliffhangers in my longer narrative poems, and then watch to see if any of them activate depending on how the donations come in.
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