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 I in this post, Part II next week (April 10th), and Part IV the week following (April 17th). On each occasion, I will share a prompt from Part III 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.


  1. I'm excited about this month's Ditty lessons, Michelle. Thank you to Patrice for her inspiring book and words..I think she peeked into my childhood:
    "In front of most others she was quiet. But inside her head loud bees were swarming."
    I'm going to 'find myself on paper' and pen an empathy poem to share. Thank you both for the inspiration. :)
    I'm going to give

  2. I can't wait to read it! So happy my book is resonating with you.

  3. This looks wonderful, Michelle. I also have many books about writing poetry, but it's great to know about a new book, too. I'll also pass this on to former colleagues, would have loved to have had it when I taught. This line, "but sometimes you want to experience the actual watermelon." is one I'll print out for some inspiration! Thanks for your new idea for April, a marvelous one!

  4. Thank you for sharing this book. Actually, I just ordered a copy for myself! There are so many luscious words but "I write to find a choreography for my thoughts" has really stuck with me. I can't wait to get this book! I also look forward to playing with this month's ditty since I have so much extra time now.

  5. A delicious new book to sink our teeth into. Thanks for sharing. Being home I have more time to write. I'll come back and think about this again. This prompt seems to need incubation time.

  6. Michelle, this idea of yours is simply brilliant. I love learning from you and seeing what others learn here. I agree that Poetry month can get a little overwhelming for those of us willing to call ourselves poets. There are SO many prompts that call to us. I hope you know that the kindness I find here is a tremendous part of my life.

  7. This book looks wonderful! I've copied your prompt onto a blank page. I don't know what will come of up, but no matter what, I will be carrying it in my heart this week. I wrote a poem about my hands a while ago. If you want you can read it here.

  8. Thank you for giving us a glimpse inside this book. I can't wait to learn more. Even though I'm no longer teaching, it looks like one I would enjoy for myself! I will be thinking about this week's prompt. It's important and deserves time to grow.

  9. What a lovely plan. I am overwhelmed with poetry prompts right now, but this has intrigued me. "These are the hands" will be on my mind. Hoping, once again, that I will find time to circle back and participate! THanks, Michelle!

  10. I especially like "A poem of no more than three lines can defy darkness or change the wind’s direction," although it is intimidating. How to do that?

  11. This prompt lines up with one of Amy LV's notebooking videos. I may already have a head start! YAY!

  12. What a great post, and what a great prompt! Keeping the window open to come back to...

  13. This sounds like an amazing book, and the challenge has my mind turning. Thank you.

  14. Love your new series, and enjoyed hearing about Patrice's new book -- it looks like a rich and inspiring resource. Must add it to my Wish list. :)

  15. Yippee--gonna love writing along with you to the tune of this interesting book! (My principal has brought me to my senses and got me to roll back my daily online PreK to 2.5 hours from a lot more. Maybe I really will get some reading and writing done!)

  16. Thank you for sharing Patrice's new book. I just listened to her in a podcast interview, and I registered for her Zoom event. I have a lot of poetry craft books, but I think I need to add one more!

  17. I love the new direction you are taking things. I look forward to following along.

  18. I love how you've decided to celebrate National Poetry Month. I have so many wonderful books that I don't look at as often as I'd like to. And Patrice's book sounds amazing. Even just the title is inspiring, not to mention the bits that you shared. Thanks!

  19. "These are the hands" I like this line as an entry into a poem. Thanks for sharing Part 1 of Patrice's book. And yes to: "Truth comes in through the cracks in the door or a broken window. " It does seem to slip in without our realizing it. I'm looking forward to the next section, thanks Michelle, xo.

  20. You've shared so much wisdom to savor and ponder, I'll be returning to this post throughout the month for inspiration and encouragement. I can't wait to read the coming installments. Thank you for inviting us along on this adventure, Michelle!