Thursday, April 16, 2020

Lessons from the Bookshelf: My Shouting, Shattered, Whispering Voice (Part 3)

Here we are halfway through National Poetry Month (already!) and two-thirds of the way through our in-depth look at Patrice Vecchione's newly released 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.

If you missed either of my previous posts about this insightful book, you can click on the following links to catch up:

          Part I—Poetry's Calling: Finding Yourself on Paper

          Part II—"If One Part Were Touched, the Whole World Would Tremble": 
          Writing Poetry from the Inside Out

Part III is comprised of 25 writing prompts (I've shared one in each of my posts thus far, with another at the end of today's post), so let's jump ahead to the next jam-packed section.


"How Possible Might the
Impossible Be?": Getting Your 
Poems Out There

. . . some of the more practical aspects
of writing poetry, getting your poems into the world
and living the poet's life.

Part IV opens with some solid advice about success and failure.
At first, success is in the writing of poems. Questions like “Is this a good poem?” come later. That way, you learn with freedom and curiosity how to do a new thing.
Pretty straightforward, right? Makes sense. But when it comes to failure, Vecchione's advice is more counterintuitive. She encourages the reader to view failure as "what a poet is supposed to do." It is, Vecchione explains, "the truth of the writing experience. To be strong as a writer, you have to try things out and to dare." By practicing and stretching ourselves we are increasing our skill, honing our vision, developing our style, and progressing in other significant ways.

After writing a poem, she recommends giving the draft time to rest. Getting some space from the poem allows us to come back to it with fresh eyes and a reader's objectivity.
Here’s what I look for: Does the poem make something happen in my body? Does it startle or cause tears to come to the edges of my eyes? Make me angry, poem! Make me fall in love. A poem that causes me to think anew, or that reminds me of something important I’d forgotten, is the poem I want to read.
She stresses the importance of reading the poem aloud.
When I do that, at some point along the way, a buzzer in my head may go off. So, I reread the line that caused that awful noise. If it goes off again, that indicates something in the line is off. That buzzer is spot-on in informing me of when I’m being disingenuous or unclear. It informs me the poem needs more work.
Vecchione offers pointers for editing and titling poems, and even some tips about how to ask for specific, helpful feedback from trustworthy readers (family members, friends, critique partners, etc). She goes on to say, however, that some poems, no matter how hard we work on them, may never be finished. These are the "failures" mentioned earlier—the stumbling blocks that lead to new poems along the road to success.

Once we have been writing a while and become more confident with our poet self, we might decide to take things to the next level—let our poems out of our notebooks to enjoy a life in the world. This section of the book, plus some poetry resources and submission opportunities in Part V, will help you choose where to send your poems (not all journals and contests are legit!) and/or how to create and publish a chapbook or poetry manuscript.

One of the things I like best about this section is that Vecchione never comes off as glib or overly optimistic. She stresses that "rejection is as much a part of the writing process as commas and periods." When sending out poems to magazines and journals, or chapbooks and full poetry manuscripts to traditional publishers, it's important to remember that editors are critiquing your poems, not you. If your skin is not as thick as you might like, consider alternatives to traditional publishers. Vecchione offers advice and resources for those, as well. The bottom line: "This is your art form, so devise ways to share your work that fit who you are."

The last few chapters of Part IV focus on living the poet's life. Most poets cannot support themselves by writing poetry alone, but with determination and creativity, you can find your way. Vecchione offers a poetic license (literally, to photocopy and keep in your wallet) in case you might need one in an awkward or heated moment with someone who might not appreciate what you have to say. But the most important gift she offers is encouragement and confidence to do what you love and are already compelled to do.
Beyond any other reason, write poems because you are engaged and curious, because you love the surprising leaps of imagination, because you have things to say, and because the act of writing poems changes you—there’s that joy again when you unfold the piece of paper with your new poem on it, read it, find yourself and part of the world in those phrases, slip it back into the pocket of your jeans, and smile because you realize nothing’s the same as it was before.

This week's challenge . . .

For this week's challenge, I've selected "Into the Future: Take Yourself There Now" (Chapter 53) from Part III of My Shouting, Shattered, Whispering Voice. Patrice writes:  

Is the future a place you wish you could arrive at now? I remember feeling that way. Or maybe here and now is fine. For the length of a poem, venture into that place called future, as you imagine it; peer into its unknown terrain, and see what you find.  

My student Rachel B. wrote:
The future is as blurry
as when you splash water
and try to see your reflection
And another student, Karen Amundson, wrote:
Future is inside me,
right beyond this storm of hope.
How do you see your future? Is it also just beyond a storm of hope?

You may also respond to this month's first challenge or second challenge if you prefer.

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

Last week's challenge to write about a time you lost something or somebody resonated with a few, but scared off others. Perhaps the prompt was not the best choice given the state of the world right now, but I applaud those of you who responded. On the blog, I featured a Two Line Tuesday on the topic, as well as poems by Mindy Gars Dolandis and Kay Jernigan McGriff. You can read others on the padlet, including one or two new poems for the previous week's challenge. Join us next week for our end of month celebration and giveaway!

It's not too late to follow and participate in National Poetry Month projects!
 You’ll find the NPM roundup at Jama's Alphabet Soup.

Join Molly Hogan at Nix the Comfort Zone for a nourishing repast of homemade bread and poetry at this week's Poetry Friday roundup.


  1. Looking into the future... hmmm... I am very much in one-day-at-at-time mode, which isn't like my usual "what's next" self... I am trying to embrace it! If pressed, my mind goes to blue skies, snow-covered vistas... nothing with much definition, nonly open spaces. Which is where surprises and miracles hide, right? Thank you for sharing more from this book, Michelle... and I adore the student responses. xo

  2. Michelle, what another fabulous post! I am grappling with the thin-skinned problem. I love the encouragement to fail. That's a whole new way of seeing things. I never got around to last week's challenge. The two daily prompts I've committed to have kept me hopping. But, I aim to. I will think about the future as well...I remember having that feeling and being told, "someday." I appreciate seeing your work with students. You are a good teacher.

    1. Those were Patrice's students, Linda, but I will take your compliment about being a good teacher and run with it. ;)

  3. As someone who is constantly second-guessing herself, these words were especially comforting and freeing: "Beyond any other reason, write poems because you are engaged and curious, because you love the surprising leaps of imagination, because you have things to say, and because the act of writing poems changes you." Thank you for sharing this and for the prompt, even if the future does feel far off.

  4. I'm enjoying your deep dive into Vecchione's book, Michelle. So many pearls of wisdom including, "rejection is as much a part of the writing process as commas and periods." Actually this is liberating - helps you reclaim the power that rejection can have over your writing/ability to submit. :)

  5. Right now the future looks a little grim. I'd rather focus on today, one step at a time. I actually have this book on my shelf--you are encouraging me to take it down and read

  6. The book truly sounds like one for keeping always, Michelle. I like hearing about her specific ideas but also the deep support she gives. This is one I need to order! I love the student's words: "The future is as blurry
    as when you splash water
    and try to see your reflection." It's quite poignantly true for us today. Thanks for another great post.

  7. Thank you for sharing your deep dive into this book. It is a treasure I want for my own bookshelf. I am taking to heart that advice not to be afraid to fail, but to look as it as an opportunity to learn and a stepping stone to the next poem along the way.

  8. I'm not sure I'm able to lift my eyes to the future right now, but doing so from within poetry sounds like a good place to start. I'm sorry I haven't been able to participate much this month. I love these lines: "Beyond any other reason, write poems because you are engaged and curious, because you love the surprising leaps of imagination, because you have things to say, and because the act of writing poems changes you—" Thanks for sharing from this wonderful book!

  9. I love that blurry reflection of a future. Like Molly, I'm not looking at the future right now...just trying to focus on now, which is less scary. Thanks for these excerpts!

  10. I have loved hearing about this book in such detail, and have ordered a copy for myself. Thanks for giving such an insight.

  11. Such a timely prompt for all that's happening in our small world. And this response takes my breath away, "Future is inside me,
    right beyond this storm of hope." I hope we can get past this storm and look again into the future. Thanks for sharing this inspiring poetry prompt book Michelle, xo.

  12. Wonderful words of wisdom which can be applied to other writing genres in addition to poetry. Letting things sit and coming back later, and also reading things aloud are essential. This does sound like a great addition to any writer's bookshelf. Thanks for the insightful post!

  13. What a great blog post, Michelle. I am hoping to jump into the new prompt. The future looks like it will be a new normal to me. I will play with that after I finish two projects on my desk now beside my family tasks. There is always so much to juggle lately. Watching virus reports and listening to our governor daily are two essential parts of my day since my neighborhood is in close proximity to the epicenter on Long Island and under hour away from NYC.

  14. I'm enjoying the deep dive you're taking into this book. So much great info. What a great poetry resource.