"What I Didn't Know Before": Using the Volta

By Sarah Kortemeier

Students will write a poem that features a volta (a change in the poem's argument), using Ada Limón's "What I Didn't Know Before" as a model. 

Ada Limón
Becka Ranta
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Track Title
"What I Didn't Know Before"

Limón, Ada. The Carrying. Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions, 2018.

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Introduce students to the concept of a volta: a change, shift, or turn in the argument of the poem. This poetic device originated as a feature of the sonnet (usually occurring between the octet and sestet in Italian sonnets, and in the final couplet in Elizabethan sonnets) but is widely used in contemporary free verse as well. 

Play the recording of Ada Limón's "What I Didn't Know Before" for students. Ask students:

  • Where is the turn in this poem? 
  • Where is the turn positioned in this poem (beginning, middle, or end)? Why do you think the poet made this choice? 
  • Was the turn surprising? Why or why not? 
  • What do you notice about the physical descriptions in this poem? What makes these details important?

Now it's the students' turn to try this technique. Ask students to write a poem starting with a fun or weird fact (instructor may supply a few ideas if students have trouble), then make a "turn" to relate that fact to an event in their own lives. 

Share the results as a class. How did students surprise themselves by writing into a turn in a poem? 

Education Level
High School

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