Thursday, February 20, 2020

Classroom Connections Encore! with Patrice Vecchione

Last Friday was an important day in the kidlit blogging community—the 2019 CYBILS (Children's and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Awards) winners were announced

For the poetry category, selection committee members were faced with the nearly impossible task of judging poetry collections for young children alongside edgy young adult verse novels. Not fair at all. But on the bright side, the finalists for this category were all well-deserving:

  • Shout, by Laurie Halse Anderson

Two of these finalists were featured last year on Today's Little Ditty—Soccerverse and Ink Knows No Borders. I would have been thrilled if either of them won the CYBILS award for poetry, and wouldn't you know, one of them did!

to Patrice Vecchione and Alyssa Raymond 
for Ink Knows No Borders: Poems of the Immigrant and Refugee Experience

Because of the recent recognition, I thought it might be a good time to republish my interview with Patrice Vecchione about how Ink Knows No Borders can be used in the classroom. (You can find Elizabeth Steinglass's Classroom Connections interview HERE.)


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.

UPDATE: My Shouting, Shattered, Whispering Voice will be released on March 31st, but is currently available for pre-order at and Barnes & Noble

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

I know February is the shortest month, but this is ridiculous! There's only one week left to go before our wrap-up celebration for Buffy Silverman's DMC challenge. Have you posted your word invention poem on the padlet yet? This week's featured daily ditties were by Cindy Breedlove, Rebekah Hoeft, and B.J. Lee.

Join Cheriee Weichel at Library Matters for this week's Poetry Friday roundup and a wonderful interview with Avis Harley. It's the second in Cheriee's series of interviews with Vancouver children's poets.


  1. Congratulations to Patrice!! I haven't seen this anthology and must make it a point to do so. Safia's poem is both poignant and powerful. Enjoyed reading Patrice's comments. Re. Cybils, I think the poetry category is the most difficult -- trying to judge an anthology vs. a verse novel is like comparing apples and oranges.

  2. Congratulations to Patrice and those who contributed! This was on my CYBILS shortlist when we were narrowing down the finalists because the writing, imagery, and emotions were so strong. Wish they all could have won, but this book was definitely deserving!

  3. That pledge poem is a treasure! It brought tears to my eyes.

  4. Hooray! I love the selections and thank you for re-posting this interview. I can't believe I haven't read this book yet. I simply must get my hands on it. Thank you for the nudge.

  5. I have read the finalists and loved Ink Has No Borders, feels like one that every classroom should have, for those who find themselves in it and those who need to understand other stories unknown to them. Congratulations to all the finalists, and for the win, to Patrice. Lovely interview, Michelle.

  6. I was on the Round 1 committee, so I've read this amazing collection. Thanks for the educator's guide.

  7. Wonderful. The featured poem is so powerful. Congratulations to all of those involved with Ink Know No Borders.

  8. Wow. That is amazing. I need to get this book!

  9. Ink Has No Borders has been on my to read list for ages. I even had it home from the library once, but didn't get to it because of all the other books I had checked out. I am not more determined than ever to to read it!

  10. This is such a terrific book--all of the round 2 judges were fans!

  11. Congratulations to Patrice! This collection is on my wish list, and I'm looking forward to reading it (as well as others on the list). This is a great interview to share again.

  12. Wow...powerful, powerful poem. This collection makes me wish I was back in the classroom, with the opportunity to share these poems with my students.

  13. Congratulations to Patrice and all of the contributors. As a first generation American, I love hearing 1st gen and immigrant voices raised up, honored, and given space in this way.

  14. Thanks for this inspiring post Michelle featuring Patrice Vecchione. I loved hearing her story about the student that looks off into the air, finds the words and is off and running writing up a storm–how invigorating. Looking forward to both of the books you shared here.

  15. Thanks for the introduction to Ink Knows No Borders and Safio Elhillo's poem. Both would be great additions to a HS English class, Michelle.