Thursday, April 2, 2020

Lessons from the Bookshelf: My Shouting, Shattered, Whispering Voice (Part 1)

Happy National Poetry Month!

When I was deciding what I might do this year to celebrate, the thought occurred to me that maybe I should actually take this month off to focus on my own writing. Goodness knows there are always a ton of wonderful poetry projects in April vying for the attention of readers and writers, educators and students. My growing collection of books about writing poetry is collecting dust, while other more pressing items rise to the top of my to-do list. Wouldn't it be nice if I used National Poetry Month to dive into one of those?

Olga Reznik

Then the light bulb went on. 

You, my friends, can take a deep dive with me! I'm excited to introduce my new blog series, "Lessons from the Bookshelf" where I'll be taking an in-depth look at educational books about writing poetry. And for those of you thinking but what about the monthly ditty challenge?, I've got great news. For this series, I will be offering up prompts from these highly recommended books for you to try out! We'll collect the poems on a padlet and celebrate at the end of the month like we always do.

What's more, this month I have something extra special to share with you. (Seems those dusty books on my shelf will have to wait a while longer.) Patrice Vecchione, coeditor of last year's Cybils Award-winning Ink Knows No Borders, was kind enough to provide me with an advance copy of her newest instructional book about writing poetry—

Purchase within the next 90 days at the Seven Stories Press website and 10%
will go to the Book Industry Charitable Fund (BINC) to support independent
bookstores during the COVID-19 crisis.
** Register HERE for a virtual book launch on April 7th, 6:00pm Pacific Time! **

Hot off the press, this book is positively bursting at the seams with advice and valuable information about what it means to be a poet, the ins and outs of practicing one's craft, and even how to get published. Pitched toward teens inclined to pursue writing, I can assure you that adults will treasure this friendly and nurturing 172-page guide as well.

My Shouting, Shattered, Whispering Voice opens with a personal introduction which is both confessional—
Once upon another time there was a kid who was overwhelmed by her life. She needed a way to reckon with her confusions, those knotted and gooey ones that pressed against her. . . . At school she felt out of place, as though the oddities of her home life were visible. In front of most others she was quiet. But inside her head loud bees were swarming.
and inspiring—
Writing poems is a way to uncover what most needs to be uncovered—to loosen the tongue in solitude, to make connections that can’t be made in conversation. Poems are made of questions more than answers. They can withstand sudden shifts of direction, may be full of contradictions. Poems don’t shy away from incomplete sentences. A poem of no more than three lines can defy darkness or change the wind’s direction. 

The body of the book is divided into five parts, each with multiple short chapters. Just reading the section headings below will give you a flavor of the book's encouraging manner and comprehensive treatment:
  1. Poetry's Calling: Finding yourself on paper
  2. "If One Part Were Touched, the Whole World Would Tremble": Writing Poetry from the Inside Out
  3. Who Said You Couldn't Say That?: Twenty-Five Poetry Writing Suggestions in Twenty-One Short Chapters
  4. "How Possible Might the Impossible Be?": Getting Your Poetry Out There
  5. Where to Go from Here: Poetry Resources

The pages are also peppered with quotations and excerpts from famous poets and writers, functioning to deepen the reader's experience through exposure to a variety of voices.

Because this book is particularly rich with information, I've decided to focus solely on Part 1 in this post, Part 2 next week (April 10th), and Part 4 the week following (April 17th). On each occasion, I will share a prompt from Part 3 for you to respond to if you choose. On April 24th, the last Friday of the month, we will have a wrap up celebration that includes all of the poems contributed during the month and a book giveaway for one lucky participant (selected randomly), courtesy of the publisher.

So let's get to the good stuff, shall we?


Poetry's Calling:
Finding Yourself on Paper

Here's an intimate look at the writing mind and
what writing poetry can do for us.

The first chapter of Part I, "Why Write?," explores what gets you to the page. It includes this delicious quote from poet Sara Michas-Martin:
I want to write things down to honor and see things more clearly. To find a choreography for my thoughts. To keep time from sliding away from me. I want to make a simple fruit taste like magic again. Because a Jolly Rancher is delicious, but sometimes you want to experience the actual watermelon. You want to use your teeth to bite down to the rind; you want the cold juice on your chin.
Vecchione encourages readers to find their own "why."
The moment you speak your truth in a poem, you take the first steps to becoming a writer. . . . Writers write because we have something to say, even in those moments when we don’t know exactly what it is. What compels you becomes a piece of your “why I write.”
Subsequent chapters go to describe the beginnings of poetry, the mind of the poet, what writing does for us, the essence of imagination, and the art of listening. She describes how important silence is to the poet and that there are different kinds of silence that we need to become acquainted with. She talks of truth and facts at a time in our history when such concepts are being questioned:
When writing a poem, facts enter in through the unlocked front door (as they should be able to). Truth comes in through the cracks in the door or a broken window. A poem is after truth, and since you’re its author, your truth in particular. The poem and your life experiences belong to you. This isn’t going to be your father’s poem nor the one your best friend would write. It’s yours, and isn’t that nice?
She explains how we know what we know (through our senses and intuition) and encourages us to be present, invite inspiration, and respond to our complicated world within the context of discovering who and what we are. Learning to be comfortable with our own company is the goal, but Vecchione also examines the common pitfalls so many of us encounter—procrastination, what happens if we don't write, losing our way, writer's block, and our dreaded internal critic—as we get to know our poet within.

This week's challenge . . .

For this week's challenge, I've selected "These Are the Hands" (Chapter 39) from Part 3 of My Shouting, Shattered, Whispering Voice. It's a prompt about empathy— something we so desperately need more of in today's world. The prompt was inspired by a poem by Gabriella Gutiérrez y Muhs, titled "These are the hands that could sand a wooden bench." Gutiérrez y Muhs is a poet Patrice  has known and loved for decades, a friend who would (and did once) give her the coat off her back. Here is the prompt in her own words:

Consider writing about the place that empathy has in your own life—a time you offered compassion to another or a time it was freely given to you. Or write about sharing food with others as Gutiérrez does with the men outside Kmart who wait there each day in hopes of being hired to sand benches or dig ditches. You might begin a poem with the words “These are the hands . . .” Or explore a time you felt a connection with a stranger or a group of strangers. A way to increase our happiness, recent research says, is to talk to someone you don’t know. Could your poem be a father watching with hope, the arms that hold a baby, or a smile full of metal teeth? Might it have the piquancy of hot salsa or wrap up the essential as a tortilla does? 

All excerpts in this post are copyright © 2020 by Patrice Vecchione, from My Shouting, Shattered, Whispering Voice: A Guide to Writing Poetry and Speaking Your Truth, used with permission by Seven Stories Press.


You'll find the padlet embedded below. Add your poem in response to this prompt or scroll through to read what others are contributing. By posting on the padlet, you are also granting me permission to feature your poem on Today's Little Ditty.

If you have not participated in a challenge before, please send me an email at TodaysLittleDitty (at) gmail (dot) com so that I can contact you, if necessary.

In the lower right corner of the padlet you'll see a pink dot with a plus sign. Click on it to open a text box. I find it works best to type your title on the title line and paste the rest of your poem where it says "Write something...". Single click outside the text box when finished. This board is moderated to prevent spam. Once your poem is approved, it will appear publicly.

Remember to include your name as author of any work that you post!

TEACHERS, it's great when students get involved! Ditty of the Month Club challenges are wonderful opportunities to learn about working poets and authors while having fun with poetry prompts. Thank you for spreading the word! For children under 13, please read my COPPA compliance statement in the sidebar to the right.

BLOGGERS, thank you for publishing your poems on your own blogs–I love that! Please let me know about it so I can share your post. Also remember to include your poem (or a direct link to your post) on the padlet.

For best viewing, click HERE to open this padlet in a new tab.

Made with Padlet

For several years now, Jama Rattigan has done us a great service by rounding up poetry projects on offer for National Poetry Month. She does such a beautiful job! Stop by the roundup at Jama's Alphabet Soup to see what's available.

As for the Poetry Friday roundup, we're sheltering in poems this week. It's going to be an active month and we'll need all the sustenance we can get! Join Heidi Mordhorst at my juicy little universe to find a poem that shelters you.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

DMC: "Remember That Time When" by Mary Lee Hahn


Remember that time
when we played
long distance cribbage?

You, in California,
me, in Colorado.
We sent cards

back and forth
in the mail.
I can't recall

how to play,
not to mention
how or why

we chose this
absurdly random method
for staying connected.

Maybe that's it—
the big takeaway:
against all odds,


© 2020 Mary Lee Hahn. All rights reserved.

TLD reader Tabatha Yeatts has challenged us to write a poem about a game (any kind). Click HERE for more details and to add your poem to the padlet. You can read all of the poems contributed this month HERE.

Monday, March 30, 2020

DMC: "The Game of Getting Lost" by Elizabeth Steinglass


Under the palms and banana leaves
along the winding trails,
I ran ahead of my mom and dad
and found myself alone.

On my own in the giant world,
I chose which way to go.
I crossed the swaying wooden bridge,
I passed the waterfall,

I smelled the lemony golden elves,
I petted the pompom tree,
and when I felt I’d been gone too long,
I turned myself around.

Spying my parents along the path,
I skipped away again,
playing the game of getting lost
within the greenhouse walls. 

© 2020 Elizabeth Steinglass. All rights reserved.

TLD reader Tabatha Yeatts has challenged us to write a poem about a game (any kind). Click HERE for more details and to add your poem to the padlet. You can read all of the poems contributed this month HERE.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

March DMC Wrap-Up Celebration


Games are the most elevated form of investigation.
          – Albert Einstein

At the beginning of this month, Tabatha Yeatts challenged us to write a poem about a game (which, if you ask me, is also a pretty elevated form of investigation). She elaborated:
It could be a board game, a sport, a fictional game—any kind of game—and the narrator could be in the middle of playing it or teaching you how to play or telling how it went very wrong or the poem itself could be a game.

The Game of Life has been tough these days.

"Life" by Will Folsom

Many more Snakes than Ladders

"Snakes and Ladders" by Jacqui Brown

and plenty of Trouble and Sorry! to go around

have made some want to throw their hands up in defeat—

"You sunk my battleship!"      by Derek Gavey

It's true, finding joy these days has been no Trivial Pursuit,

"Jara vs. Trivial Pursuit" by Manuel J. Prieto

but I'm grateful for online communities like ours that are still going strong—coming together as we always do to write, listen, share, and otherwise lighten the load for one another.

It leaves me with a feeling something like this . . .


Thank you to everyone who contributed a poem this month and/or supported others with comments, and special thanks to Tabatha for inspiring our month-long poetry game-a-thon!

Scroll through the poems below or CLICK HERE to open a new tab.

Made with Padlet

If you would like to write a poem about a game, visit Tabatha's spotlight interview for instructions and then click on the pink dot with the plus sign to add your poem to the padlet. While there aren't many days left in March, I'll be leaving this padlet open indefinitely, so feel free to add to it at any point in the future.


Samantha Aikman from Mount Mansfield Union High School in Richmond, Vermont,
has been named the winner of the 2020 National Poetry Month Poster Contest for Students.

With National Poetry Month just around the corner, there are many places besides Today's Little Ditty to gather together and celebrate poetry. Many thanks to Jama Rattigan for rounding up next month's poetry projects at Jama's Alphabet Soup.

At Today's Little Ditty, I will be introducing a new series called "Lessons from the Bookshelf" where I take an in-depth look at educational books about writing poetry. Beginning Friday, April 3rd, I will focusing on My Shouting, Shattered, Whispering Voice: A Guide to Writing Poetry and Speaking Your Truth by Patrice Vecchione (Seven Stories Press, March 31, 2020). I hope you'll join me!

The winner of last week's giveaway for a signed copy of The Nest That Wren Built, by Randi Sonenshine, illustrated by Anne Hunter is . . .

Congratulations, Mary Lee!

Our DMC game-a-thon coach, Tabatha Yeatts, is hosting this week's Poetry Friday roundup and sharing a beautiful, thought-provoking poem about acceptance. You'll find her keeping score at The Opposite of Indifference.

DMC: "on saturday" by Jan Godown Annino

on saturday

on saturday
gray gulls float in shifting arabesques over water silk
a firm hand finishes the lighthouse sign post
my father ferries hot cups to the table
everyone sips, taps a wayward piece into place, finishing "Shore"

© 2020 Jan Godown Annino. All rights reserved.

TLD reader Tabatha Yeatts has challenged us to write a poem about a game (any kind). Click HERE for more details and to add your poem to the padlet. While some poems will be shared as daily ditties this month, all contributions will be included in a wrap-up celebration tomorrow, Friday, March 27th.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

DMC: "red-tailed hawk" by Robyn Hood Black

red-tailed hawk
to the gray squirrel
tag – you're it

© 2020 Robyn Hood Black. All rights reserved.

TLD reader Tabatha Yeatts has challenged us to write a poem about a game (any kind). Click HERE for more details and to add your poem to the padlet. While some poems will be shared as daily ditties this month, all contributions will be included in a wrap-up celebration this Friday, March 27th.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

DMC: "Hide and Seek" by Janie Lazo


Let’s play a game of hide and seek
My best friend said to me
Then off she ran as there I sat
Leaned up against a tree
I counted up to ten and yelled
Get ready here I come
But then I went inside the house–
This game seemed quite ho hum
I watched some TV, ate a snack
And read my favorite book
When I got bored I went outside
Perhaps I’ll take a look
As I went out her mom pulled up–
C’mon it’s time to go
Our game was done– our friendship too
I guess I was too slow

© 2020 Janie Lazo. All rights reserved.

TLD reader Tabatha Yeatts has challenged us to write a poem about a game (any kind). Click HERE for more details and to add your poem to the padlet. While some poems will be shared as daily ditties this month, all contributions will be included in a wrap-up celebration this Friday, March 27th.