Saturday, August 9, 2014

Prompt # 195 – Historical High Jinks

You’ve heard about revisionist history, I’m sure. That is, the reinterpretation of traditionally accepted views on documentary evidence, motivations, and decision-making processes surrounding a historical event—the idea that things didn’t happen exactly as we think they did.

This week, let’s try something amusing and fun. Many historical events changed the world— here’s your chance to change history, to put your own spin on the thoughts, ideas, and experiences behind actual historical events.


1. Think about historical events that interest you, and make a list of some.

2. Choose one historical event from your list and think about that event in terms of what no one can ever know.

A. What were the people central to the event really thinking. For example, what do you think Mary Queen of Scots was thinking just before her head was severed. What were the builders of Stonehenge thinking as they transported and lifted those huge stones into place?
B. Consider what happened moments before the event to one of the people central to it?
C. Tell how did the event happen to be recorded incorrectly.
D. What did people misunderstand at the time the event occurred?
E. What if there had been computers and cell phones, email and texting, when the event occurred? How might things have happened differently?

3.  Free write for a while just to get some ideas into written words.

4.  Take a look at what you’ve written and work the best of it into a poem in which you give a different interpretation, description, or understanding of a single historical event.

5. Consider assuming the persona of a historical figure and write from that person’s “invented” perspective.


1. Funny, flippant, and just plain silly are okay for this poem, but don’t get so caught up in the fun that you sacrifice quality.

2. After you’ve got a fairly good draft completed, look at what you’ve got and work on arranging the poem into lines and stanzas. Don’t become bound by a particular format. Let your poem “speak” to you, and because you’re “fracturing” history, let your lines and stanzas be “fractured” (uneven, broken, emjambed) as well.

3. Here are some historical events you might consider: the death of Cleopatra, the signing of the Magna Carta, DaVinci painting the “Mona Lisa,” Shakespeare writing one of the plays or sonnets, Columbus landing in the “New World,” Marie Antoinette on her way to the guillotine, the Wright Brothers flying the first motorized plane, Fleming discovering penicillin, the first moon walk.

4. For some added fun, include at least one anachronism (something that belongs to a period in which it didn’t yet exist; for example, a plane flying over Alexandria as Cleopatra lifts the asp to her neck or Columbus checking his watch at the precise moment of landing).

5. An alternative idea might be to rewrite a famous poem about a historical event (i.e., “Paul Revere’s Ride” by Longfellow).


Imagine Mary Queen of Scots

Imagine Mary Queen of Scots, dressed in red
beneath the black cloak—her short gray hair
covered by a wig as she walks in silence to the block.
Her ladies stand aside, the executioner
holds his axe. No one will ever know the truth,
she thinks (about who set the plans in motion
for the evil husband’s death and how the queen, yes,
“good queen Bess” was frightened to the core).
The executioner swings three times before her
head is severed. A train rumbles in the distance.


  1. Great fun, Adele! Nothing like a bit of revisionist history!

  2. Adele, how do you come up with these? This is so unique and so much fun. Nice and "lite" for a hot summer afternoon.

    1. Thanks, Kathy! Sometimes it's fun to just "play" with poetry.

  3. An interesting idea that would work well combined with a history lesson. Maybe an activity to think about for the coming semester and an opportunity to work with someone from the history department.

    1. Great idea, Rich! Hope you're able to organize it!

  4. Abraham
    Abraham Aveenu
    with your tent open on all sides
    in the middle of an endless dessert
    welcoming all passersby
    from all directions
    Abraham our Father

    Nothing to hide
    Nothing to steal
    (except maybe Sara)
    Sharing everything
    (except maybe Sara)
    Abraham our Father

    Why be a Jew?
    My heart has a hole in it

    1. Very interesting, Risa, that you've gone to Biblical and spiritual history. Well done!

    2. Interesting take on biblical history. I get the sense that this has deep personal meaning for you (the last line).

  5. Thanks, Adele and Jamie, and all who have read my entry. Yes, Jamie, it does have deep personal meaning. In fact, the only way to express it, is in poetry. Otherwise, it would be volumes and volumes!

    1. "The only way to express it is in poetry" — so true, and that's exactly why we write!