Patrice Vecchione’s new book will always carry a 2020 copyright. In the near and distant future, readers are likely to see that year as a shorthand for a distinct historical experience, much like 2001, 1945, or 1776.
And even though the book contains not a single mention of the word “Covid-19,” it has turned out to be, she says, quite well suited for the times.
“It’s almost like it was prescient,” says Vecchione, a poet, author, and editor who lives near Monterey but grew up and lived for many years in Santa Cruz. “It’s kind of the perfect book for right now, for people with a lot of time on their hands, people who have latent creativity, or people who are fearful or suffering from anxiety.”
The new book is titled My Shouting, Shattered, Whispering Voice: A Guide to Writing Poetry and Speaking Your Truth (Seven Stories Press), and it’s part memoir, part hard-nosed advice and insight on how to live the life of a fully engaged, spiritually nourished writer.
The book was published before the pandemic shutdown in March, but her speaking engagements and appearances to promote the book—including one at Bookshop Santa Cruz—were all cancelled. Now, however, she’s back in the circuit, albeit a virtual one. She will headline a virtual book reading, sponsored by Bookshop, on Tuesday, July 21, at 7pm.
Vecchione has been a central figure of the Santa Cruz poetry community for decades and a popular teacher and workshop leader throughout Northern California and elsewhere. She’s the author of the nonfiction titles Writing and the Spiritual Life and Step Into Nature, as well as two volumes of poetry. She has edited a number of poetry anthologies, many of which are aimed at young-adult readers, and she writes regularly for The Monterey Herald.
My Shouting is a distillation of many of the lessons she has worked to instill in her students and fellow would-be readers, featuring everything from inspiring writing prompts to anecdotal illustrations of writing as an effective and fulfilling means to self-knowledge.
Back in March, a week before the first declarations of emergency regarding the coronavirus pandemic, Vecchione and I had lunch at Alta Bakery at the historical Cooper Molera adobe in downtown Monterey.
“This is the book I’ve always wanted to write,” she said at the time. The book, she said, is a clarion call to anyone who suspects that within themselves a writer or a poet is struggling to emerge.
“I just try to stand behind anyone who wants to write, saying ‘C’mon, you can do it. I’m right here.’ If you don’t have any confidence in yourself right now, that’s all right, because I’ll hold that confidence for you—even though we’ve never met, because I know if I can write and publish a book, then you also stand that chance.”
The book begins by marshaling an argument for writing’s power to unleash the imagination and to reveal the true personality of the writer like nothing else quite can. Vecchione brings in the various tools of her trade, from quotes and anecdotes by famous names to intimate stories of her mother’s final days.
From there, the book gives practical advice on everything from the writer’s daily habits to reflections on the publishing industry and ideas to get readers on the path to self-expression. She examines the unique properties of poetry, including the meaning behind language, and the “music” behind well-expressed words. Throughout it all, she uses her own life story as a kind of illustration of what writing can (and cannot) deliver for the writer.
“I have made a life as an itinerant writer ever since I started teaching poetry to kids when I was 19,” she said that day in the late afternoon sunshine, promising a beautiful spring that was fated to be interrupted just days later. “I’ve never had an employer. Now, I’m not telling people, ‘Here’s the path.’ I talk about how I’m married and that I have a middle-class life, and that if it weren’t for (husband) Michael, I would do exactly what I do now but I would live in a studio apartment and maybe not have health insurance. I would live a very different life. But I also say, long before I met him—back when I bought gas $3 at a time and single rolls of toilet paper—I always had a bouquet of flowers in my house. It’s a lot about how to live a creative life.”
My Shouting also takes on the magic inherent in embracing a creative life. At one point, Vecchione talks about a student whose brother had died. When she tried to write about her brother’s death, the writer couldn’t remember how she learned the news. Vecchione suggested she start by simply writing “I don’t remember” and list all the things she had forgotten from the grief of his death.
“That evening she emailed me,” Vecchione writes in the book. “In the subject bar were the words ‘I remember!’ By writing a list of all the things she couldn’t recall, accepting and not pushing against her lost memories, that which she thought was gone forever returned.”
“You know more than you know you know,” she says now. “Nothing is lost to us from our experience. We may not have easy access to memories, but we remember it in our bodies and in our dreams.”
Back in March, at lunch in Monterey, when Covid-19 was still a rapidly approaching cloud on the far horizon, Vecchione channeled a kind of orientation of the world that today has become common in an upside-down world, prefiguring the soul searching that shelter-in-place and quarantine have compelled many to do.
“That’s what poetry allows us to do,” she said at the time, “to say ‘What if?’ My thinking is, that at this time of crisis, we need to think in ways that we don’t even know what they are yet. To do that, you have to use your imagination.”
Patrice Vecchione will read from her new book ‘My Shouting, Shattered, Whispering Voice’ in a virtual event on Tuesday, July 21, at 7pm. To register for the free event, go to bookshopsantacruz.com or patricevecchione.com.