Posts Tagged ‘Ottone Riccio


Do Not Give Me Things Unbroken

I thought it might be fun to write stories about some of Ricky Riccio’s individual assignments that made their way into Unlocking the Poem—and this post will be the first of several to do just that.

One assignment that sticks out—in a distinctly positive way—consisted of a sentence Ricky gave to his students to use as the title or first line of a poem: Do not give me things unbroken. Like so many of Ricky’s assignments, this is but a brief snippet from which poems could emerge . . . and emerge they did! For weeks, students returned to workshop with additional “do not give me things unbroken” poems . . . and many of the poems were truly inspired.

We, the students, were so excited by what was happening that five of us decided to collect these poems and publish them. We put together a poetry anthology called (of course!) Do Not Give Me Things Unbroken, containing poems from 54 different authors; we dedicated the volume to Ricky and his teaching. (You’ll see this assignment as Assignment Number 417 in Unlocking the Poem, “illustrated” by several poems previously published in Do Not Give Me Things Unbroken.)

Among the poems produced in response to the assignment, we had free verse and villanelles, concrete poems, prose poems, sestinas and sijo—a vast richness of the many different poetry forms Ricky had exposed us to. (Ricky was the first to show me these forms, and I am deeply grateful; for those of you not familiar with them, you can find information about them all in Unlocking the Poem.)

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Reading and Writing and the Occasional Rondeau

Ellen Steinbaum, one of Ricky’s many students (and an excellent poet, now with two beautiful books under her belt) has a blog called Reading and Writing and the Occasional Recipe. All this week she has been posting assignments-from-Ricky for other poets to try their hands at. Not sure what response she has had so far, but she certainly encouraged me to reach back into my own mind!

The assignment Ellen picked for Wednesday (November 18, 2009) was to write a rondeau about the sound of waves crashing, and she provided some explanation from Ricky about the structure of the rondeau form, for poets who were not familiar with it. That got me thinking about one of the assignments we included in Unlocking the Poem, to write a rondeau based on the origin of the word “tuxedo.” My own poem from that assignment did not make it into Unlocking the Poem (we chose a sensual and evocative poem from the poet Carol Siemering instead) but was published in Concrete Wolf.

When I did some research into the roots of “tuxedo,” I found that the word came from an Algonquin Indian word, “P’tuksit,” literally “he whose feet are round,” and referring to the wolf, the tribe’s totem. My poem, which follows, went straight back to the wolves . . .

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Buy the Book!


Praise for the Book

“Unlocking the Poem brings both the creative writing teacher and the aspiring writer a trustworthy guidebook and a generous resource. . . . authors Riccio and Siegel have put together a book that deserves a place on every poet’s shelf. Its copies will become well-worn and dog-eared from future service.”
–X. J. Kennedy

“Riccio and Siegel deserve the gratitude of poets
and writing workshop leaders everywhere for their no-holds-barred approach to stimulating the imagination and unlocking the poems in all of us.”
–Sue Ellen Thompson

“For those who can’t get to [Ottone Riccio's] workshops this remarkable teacher, together with Ellen Beth Siegel, has compiled a book of inspiring lessons to help writers on their way to good poems.”
–Diana Der-Hovanessian

June 2023