Thursday, April 9, 2020

Lessons from the Bookshelf: My Shouting, Shattered, Whispering Voice (Part 2)

Welcome back to Lessons from the Bookshelf and our deep dive into Patrice Vecchione's newly released instructional book for teens (and older):

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.

Last week I introduced you Part I: "Poetry's Calling: Finding Yourself on Paper." (If you missed it, you can catch up HERE.) This week we'll be taking a closer look at Part II.


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

This section will give you an in-depth look
at poetry's components.

"If one part were touched, the whole would tremble" is attributed to poet William Stafford. According to Vecchione, it describes what we all should strive for before considering a poem "complete." Like a spider web that quivers when one part of its delicate fabric is disturbed, a strong poem is more than the sum of its parts. As poets, our goal should be to ensure that every single word in a poem has a relationship to every other word.

What draws so many of us to writing poetry is a love of words, and that's where this section begins, with a chapter called "Loving Words."
Is it a word’s meaning or its sound that woos you? Maybe it’s the way the word feels in your mouth when you speak it. Some words are smooth. Others are ice that won’t melt. Certain words inflame me; I want to spit them out. Some words hiss; others stammer. Some tell truths we’re not able to hear.
The next chapter explores what makes a poem a poem. Vecchione's favorite definition of poetry is "a picture made out of words," but she goes on to explain that a poem does not recreate an experience, it becomes something new—something that holds its own, where every word carries weight.
If a poem were a simple mathematical equation, it wouldn’t be 1 + 1 = 2; it would be butterfly + mountain = the first moment I saw you. A poem often takes leaps like Superman, “able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.” Not everything is explained but somehow the poem isn’t missing anything. That is its integrity.
After that, Part II examines the various forms poetry can take, the essential element of sound in poetry, and what we see—the shape of a poem. Vecchione gets into nitty-gritty details like stanzas, line breaks, and punctuation, but also explores the character of a poem—its voice and style. She discusses similes and metaphors (with splendid examples), and the importance of choosing specific and unpredictable sensory words over more abstract adjectives:
Abstract adjectives such as “nice,” “pretty,” and “wonderful” aren’t actually nice, pretty, or wonderful. They’re vague and, in poetry, leave too much up to the interpretation of a reader. When a poem requires a reader to read it a few times, it should be to understand the poem’s complexity, not to try to decipher its meaning because the poet hasn’t done his job.
In the final chapters of Part II, Vecchione suggests some other considerations to help readers become better poets. She encourages poem memorization, for example, personalizing your writing space, and how tools of the trade can influence what you write. She closes with "Rules You'll Love to Follow"—a handful of helpful (and somewhat surprising) recommendations, including "what you write doesn't have to make sense," "trust your imagination," "don't plan what you're going to say," "spelling, punctuation, grammar, and neatness do not matter in a first (or second) draft," and "protect your vision."

Ready to put what you've learned into practice?

This week's challenge . . .

For this week's challenge, I've selected "Lost and Found" (Chapter 37) from Part III of My Shouting, Shattered, Whispering Voice. Patrice suggests that every time you lose something, something else is found. She describes a time when she had a garage sale to sell some of her mother's possessions several months after her passing. There was a green cloisonné jar that, from the moment the buyer walked away with it, she regretted selling. When the lost jar found its way into a poem, however, it gained more value than it had originally.

Here is this week's prompt in Patrice's own words:

Have you ever lost an object that was important to you, maybe when you too were quite young? How’d you cope with that loss? Was the item dropped or was it taken from you?

Write about a time you lost something or somebody. Start the poem in the present tense, as though it were happening right now. That will return the experience to you, giving it an immediacy that writing in the past tense won’t. But if that feels too close, try writing in the second or third person and see where that takes you. 

You also may respond to last week's 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 resulted in some really lovely poems about empathy. Featured daily ditties were by Linda Mitchell, Angelique Pacheco, Fran Haley, and Margaret Simon. Kay Jernigan McGriff shares hers today at A Journey Through the Pages. All of this month's contributed poems will be featured in a wrap-up presentation on Friday, April 24th, and one lucky participant will win a copy of My Shouting, Shattered, Whispering Voice, courtesy of the publisher.

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.

This week's Poetry Friday roundup is being hosted by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater at The Poem Farm. Her National Poetry Month project, Roll the Dice, is well-worth a visit, as are the daily 5-10 minute writing lessons she's been recording for students.


  1. Sounds like some wise advice in this one, Michelle! I definitely love a Superman poem and ones that surprise me... and when I'm writing, when I surprise myself, get out of my own way (and sometimes don't even know what the poem means). xo

  2. The more I read of your deep dive, the more I want this book for my own bookshelf. Thanks for the shout out, too. I'm looking forward to this prompt. It makes me think of Naomi Shihab Nye's collection WHAT HAVE YOU LOST? I love the idea of finding those lost things again in poetry.

  3. Wow! I love what you are getting and sharing from the book, Michelle. This week's prompt brought to mind something that I've had in mind to write about...but didn't know how to start. I do now. Thank you. I'm wishing you many, many beautiful word paints for your palette this week.

  4. It's an inspiring post, Michelle, from Patrice's words and your own. Some things lost in the world today feel as if they're yearning to be found again. Thanks for offering some new ways to see.

  5. So much poetry little time! Gah!

  6. Oh, I love this idea that when something is lost, something new is found. Thank you. I have this book on my desk. I was to be on a panel with her...and of course, cancelled. I look forward to digging in. Peace and health to you and yours. xxx

  7. Thank you for sharing such insight into this book. I am going to buy it and devour it. I love the perfect quote: "If One Part Were Touched, the
    Whole Would Tremble".
    Will think on your challenge - such a good one!

  8. Thanks for sharing your learning. The wisdom of letting a poem guide you is how art is. We don't always understand what the poet or the poem is trying to say, but the journey of discovery is worthwhile. This prompt can go many directions.

  9. Again, your insights and deep dive into Vecchione's text are challenging me in the best way possible. I look forward to pondering something that I have lost...oh, I know, my mind! Just kidding. Thanks for the food for thought (at least it is calorie-less!) as I ponder this prompt, Michelle. :)

  10. This is such an inspiring series, Michelle, and you've given us so much to consider in this post! Thank you so much for sharing your deep dive into Patrice Vecchione's book. As usual, we are so much richer thanks to your generosity!

  11. Poems not making sense sounds like sound advice to me. Hope to get back to the first hands challenge, and looking forward to next weeks, thanks Michelle!

  12. I'm scared to try this prompt. I think I'll put it away for another time.