Posted by: kshayes513 | October 19, 2009

Building the City of Poets, part 2

The City of Poets is the setting for my newest Khasran story, as yet untitled. The idea came from an article in the Christian Science Monitor about how Basra, Iraq, is reviving its tradition of populist poetry. As I posted earlier this year, I was captivated by the idea of a city where poetry reigns supreme. I knew I had to find a place for this city in Khasran’s world. So here’s a bit of my process of starting to create this place.

A city where poetry, song and music are the most precious commodity, must be a place where people like to enjoy life, take it slow, and give themselves the leisure to enjoy their favorite arts – to listen, to perform, and of course, to talk a lot about the art.

Endless Skies, by Rick Sardinha. A little inspiration for my worldbuilding. See more of his beautiful art at his website,

Endless Skies, by Rick Sardinha, cover art for the webzine Beneath Ceaseless Skies. A little inspiration for my worldbuilding. See more of his beautiful art at his website,

So I knew right off that my new city has a balmy climate, where people can sit outdoors all year and listen to performers. A city in a warm climate has to have a way to keep cool in the summers, and a large body of water nearby is the pleasantest way to do that. I learned this in San Diego, whose Pacific Ocean breezes protect it all year round from the brutal heat of the desert just a few miles inland. The river that runs through Khasran flows southward across the plains for another 500 miles, gathering streams and tributaries until it’s a lazy, looping giant a couple of miles wide. I planted the City of Poets just where the river leaves the plains and starts to cut through sandstone hills. The city built of that yellow sandstone sprawls alongside the river like a lazy marmalade cat basking in the sun.

Why would there be a city just here? Suppose it were the spot where river traffic from up and downstream, intersects with caravan traffic from east and west across the plains.  Old trade routes make for an old city, and a cosmopolitan one. The markets here are colorful and varied,  and the people are well accustomed to welcoming strangers from many countries. That fits well with the easy going personality I already imagine.

And what’s better than a waterfront for leisure? The whole city faces the river, and except for the dockyards, the waterfront is miles of parks, terraces and plazas where everyone gathers to shop and talk and sing, and small pleasure boats and water taxis dart along the shore.

I had to walk through the city with my characters to learn more about it: the boulevards don’t run straight perpendicular to the river; they run towards it at an angle that exactly aligns with the prevailing wind, so that the roads funnel the river breezes deep into the city.

And you can find a poet or singer on almost every corner, very often more than one, taking turns trying to outshine each other. All these street performers can’t be full-time beggar poets,though; that would make for a poor city instead of a comfortable one. I think the street singers are ordinary working people from any and all trades, and this is how they use their free time: they go out with their friends and try out their newest compositions on the public. Only the very best would be able to make a living at it.

There’s more I’m learning, about the Temple of the Gods of the South, built on a dominant hill by the city’s current rulers, who are not indigenous; and the historical kinship between the builders of the City of Poets and the builders of Khasran. But I think I’ll save that for the story.


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