Friday, April 12, 2019

Classroom Connections with Patrice Vecchione


Ink Knows No Borders: Poems of the Immigrant and Refugee Experience

Patrice Vecchione and Alyssa Raymond, Editors

Triangle Square/Seven Stories Press (March 12, 2019)
ISBN: 978-1609809072

For high school and up

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A collection of sixty-four poems by contemporary poets who come from around the world that shares the experience of first- and second-generation young adult immigrants and refugees. Whether it’s cultural and language differences, homesickness, social exclusion, racism, stereotyping, or questions of identity, the Dreamers, immigrants, and refugee poets included here encourage readers to honor their roots as well as explore new paths, offering empathy and hope. Many of the struggles described are faced by young people everywhere: isolation, self-doubt, confusion, and emotional dislocation. But also joy, discovery, safety, and family.

Contributors include Elizabeth Acevedo, Samira Ahmed, Kaveh Akbar, Eavan Boland, Chen Chen, Safia Elhillo, Martín Espada, Carlos Andrés Gómez, Joseph O. Legaspi, Ada Limón, Emtithal Mahmoud, Bao Phi, Alberto Ríos, Erika L. Sánchez, Gary Soto, Chrysanthemum Tran, Ocean Vuong, Javier Zamora . . . and many others.


self-portrait with no flag

i pledge allegiance to my
homies      to my mother’s
small & cool palms     to
the gap between my brother’s
two front teeth      & to
my grandmother’s good brown
hands       good strong brown
hands gathering my bare feet
in her lap

i pledge allegiance    to the
group text      i pledge allegiance
to laughter & to all the boys
i have a crush on      i pledge
allegiance to my spearmint plant
to my split ends      to my grandfather’s
brain & gray left eye

i come from two failed countries
& i give them back      i pledge
allegiance to no land    no border
cut by force to draw blood    i pledge
allegiance to no government    no
collection of white men carving up
the map with their pens

i choose the table at the waffle house
with all my loved ones crowded
into the booth     i choose the shining
dark of our faces through a thin sheet
of smoke     glowing dark of our faces
slick under layers of sweat     i choose
the world we make with our living
refusing to be unmade by what surrounds
us      i choose us gathered at the lakeside
the light glinting off the water & our
laughing teeth     & along the living
dark of our hair    & this is my only country

  - by Safia Elhillo

© 2019, from Ink Knows No Borders: Poems of the Immigrant and Refugee Experience (Triangle Square). Used by permission.


Poet, nonfiction writer, educator and artist Patrice Vecchione has edited several highly acclaimed anthologies for children, young adults and adults including (Henry Holt) Truth & Life, which was named one of the best children’s books by School Library Journal and Faith & Doubt, named a Best Book for Young Adults by the American Library Association. She’s the author of Writing and the Spiritual Life (McGraw-Hill) and Step into Nature: Nurturing Imagination and Spirit in Everyday Life (Beyond Words/Atria), as well as two collections of poetry. For many years, Patrice has taught poetry and creative writing to young people through her program: "The Heart of the Word: Poetry & the Imagination.” She is also a columnist for her local daily paper, the Monterey Herald, and has published essays on children and poetry. About her, Adrienne Rich said, “Patrice Vecchione is one of those steady yet vibrant, serious and passionate temperaments who continually replenish our sense of communal creativity. In my country of possibility, she and people like her would be nationally honored figures.”


Why is bringing poetry into the classroom important?

Poetry is nearly another language within any language—it welcomes contradictions, partial thoughts, phrases instead of whole sentences; it asks questions and doesn’t need an answer. Poems welcome our confusion and tawdriness, our elation and despair. They are accepting of lies as well as truths. You can take liberty with language when writing a poem and embrace a sense of freedom. Through writing poems you’ll discover you know more than you knew you knew! Poems can show us the essence of a people, the heart of the matter unlike any other form of written expression. Not only is poetry important in the classroom but bringing professional poets is, so that students may interact with people who live their life by this art form, who love language and thrive on creating poems out of it.

How might your book be incorporated into an educational curriculum?

View (and download) the curriculum guide HERE.

Can you suggest a specific classroom exercise related to your book?

Read Safia Elhillo’s poem above, “self-portrait with no flag,” and consider what you pledge your allegiance to. Another word for “allegiance" is “loyalty.” To what are you loyal? What and who do you choose? What country is your “only country”?

What is a simple, practical tip for teachers when it comes to incorporating poetry in the classroom?

When it comes to poetry, there is never a single “right answer.” There are only many “write answers.”

Can you recount a specific instance of when poetry impacted a student or group of students in a positive way?

There’s a look that’s come over a student, a look to which I devote my life, when a kid is staring off into the middle distance, watching, as it were, for the words to arrive, and then the light turns on, and it’s visible. The head bows down to the paper and the pen takes off at high-speed. When a student finds their own answer to one of life’s minor or major conundrums or is inspired to write as they never have been, oh, now that’s something!


Twitter: @VecchioneAuthor
Instagram: patricevecchione

Look for My Shouting, Shattered, Whispering Voice: A Guide to Writing Poetry and Speaking Your Truth (Seven Stories Press) in spring of 2020.

Please help me thank Patrice for participating in our "Classroom Connections" series for National Poetry Month by leaving a comment below.

 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Have you heard? 
We're giving away a dittyload of books this month!

Check out the other Classroom Connections posts and giveaways on offer (so far) by clicking the names below.

Digital art © 2018 by Miranda Barnes,
based on a line from "Ghazal" by Tracy K. Smith.


The best way to keep up with the Classroom Connections series is by subscribing to Today's Little Ditty via email, which you can do in the sidebar. I will also be announcing the posts on social media. Like me on Facebook and/or follow me on Twitter (also in the sidebar) to stay informed that way. Catch up with Classroom Connections posts you may have missed by clicking on the "It's time to INSPIRE" icon in the sidebar, or by visiting my "Poetry in the Classroom" board on Pinterest.

Jama Rattigan has rounded up a rousing collection of National Poetry Month activities, projects, and Kidlitosphere celebrations at Jama's Alphabet Soup.

Irene Latham has happy-making poems and this week's Poetry Friday roundup at Live Your Poem.


  1. Good Morning and THANK YOU Michelle and Patrice for being here. I have already dashed off and followed Patrice on twitter and have tears in my eyes from such a post that speaks to me and the students I currently devote MY life to. I cannot tell you how much those words of 'self-portrait' speak to me...a teacher whose job it is to shush kids at the time the Pledge is recited over the loud speaker. I have had so many thoughts during those times...of what I am loyal to and what our pledge states. What a beautiful and complex poem. I think my students will love it.

  2. Such an important collection to be shared in every classroom. Thank you for the peek inside and the interview, Michelle.

  3. Ooh, I love this peek into this collection, which I haven't gotten my hands on yet! I also love the prompt about allegiance/loyalty.. .and the pledging to the group text made me smile... because I have loved that in my own family, with our grown sons, who no longer live with us. Immigrants are not "other." Immigrants are us. Thank you, Michelle, for the bounty this NPM. xo

  4. My library has this collection which I'm sure I will love, Patrice and Michelle. This is new to me, so I'm thankful for your post. As a long time teacher who wrote poems with students, I especially loved the answer that begins with "There’s a look that’s come over a student, a look to which I devote my life". That is when a teacher knows the poetry will live on with that student. The poem is so full of love. I imagine many will take it up as their own (with a bit of tweaking)!

  5. This poem just gobsmacked me. I really want this book. Unfortunately my library does not have this collection (yet) If they don't get it soon, I will have to put in a request.

  6. Thank you both for introducing me to this collection. I will be looking for it just to reread the self portrait with no flag again.

  7. tarafarah7April 12, 2019 at 9:19 PM
    I get so excited every year at this time because I come across so many new and fresh ideas to use in the classroom! Thank you! (I tried to open the link to the guide you posted, but it said I had to request I did. Hope that's okay). :-) Thanks, again!

    1. Thanks for letting me know about the link, Tara. It should be fixed now.

  8. "I pledge allegiance to the group text." So perfect! Ruth in Haiti

  9. This looks like a book that belongs in every classroom. It will engender a lot of thought and good discussions. I like the classroom exercise. Thanks for the post.

  10. Thank you, Michelle and Patrice, for this peek into the collection. I very interested in it. Having 4 grandparents who immigrated from 4 different countries, having a son who met and married his wife in a different country, having grandchildren who have dual citizenship, having spent days in refugee camps on the border of Thailand, having provide a home for extended times to 2 refugee families (Africa & S.America), having had a refugee (Iran) live with us short term as he resettled ... this is a subject I feel deeply about.

  11. Michelle, my NPM post for today (Sunday) is a link to your blog. Thanks for the inspiration!

  12. Oh, Lord--I have got to come back and catch up. I'm actually posting almost daily "Poetry Goodies" for teachers on my school's private folder, and I haven't included any of these yet! Thank you for the mass of work you have put in here, as always.

  13. Thanks Michelle, for sharing Patrice Vecchione, and her rich, moving, and timely new book. I'm interested in her other forthcoming book also "My Shouting, Shattered, Whispering Voice."

  14. This feels like such an important, much-needed collection. I look forward to reading it.

  15. I know that look you spoke about, Patrice, the one on a child's face when he opens his heart to the poem. Love it!