It is through specificity that a writer
manages to state universal truths. Paradoxical, yes, but true.
Though not directly inspired by the Lyons poem, Marie Brandt’s Momma, Where Are You From? applies the same specificity
in a children's book. Check out Illustrator Chris Soentpiet’s website
for additional illustrations.
Visit Lyons' website and read her discussion
of how she wrote “Where I’m From.” Besides being a
poem in its own right, Lyons suggests ways that “Where I’m
From” can be a map for a lot of other writing journeys
Check out the many variations created by
Writing Project participants. Download a detailed lesson
on how to use this poem as a model. Download an adapted lesson and examples of how this poem
was used as a model to create poems inspired by objects observed
during a visit to the Smithsonian. Also check out a collection from various blogs. Examine
the following poem, paying particular attention to the specific
Where I’m From by George Ella Lyons
I am from clothespins, from Clorox and
I am from the dirt under the black porch.
(Black, glistening it tasted like beets.)
I am from the forsythia bush, the Dutch elm
whose long gone limbs I remember
as if they were my own.
I’m from fudge and eyeglasses,
from Imogene and Alafair.
I’m from the know-it-alls and the pass-it-ons,
from perk up and pipe down.
I’m from He restoreth my soul with a cottonball lamb
and ten verses I can say myself.
I’m from Artemus and Billie's Branch, fried corn and strong coffee.
From the finger my grandfather lost
to the auger, the eye my father shut to keep his sight.
Under my bed was a dress box spilling old pictures,
a sift of lost faces to drift beneath my dreams.
I am from those moments-snapped before I budded-
leaf-fall from the family tree.
Your Turn: Now, each of you will try to find images and ideas
for your own "Where I’m From" poem! We will share.
- Think about items that you would find
around your house/apartment/etc. That remind you of “home” or
of a certain person/time in your life. Example: bobby pins, stacks
of newspapers, grandma’s teeth in a glass.
- Items found in your yard/things you used
to do in the yard: dog bones, broken fences, flashlight tag,
a hose coiled like a snake. (Feel free to think metaphorically.)
- Items/People found in your neighborhood:
The corner store, Mr. Tate’s beat-up Ford pick-up truck, the
plum tree that served as home base, that crazy man with the
- Names of relatives (or other important
people) and/OR descriptions of things they did: Aunt Jane’s Jell-O
salad, Grandma Sue’s biscuits, Uncle Ed’s silent stare, Aunt
Judy, Cousin Leslie, the neighbor lady who always baked cookies
for the kids on the block
- Sayings that you remember your parents
always saying or that remind you of someone/something: “If
I’ve told you once” or, “I love you thiiiiiiiiiis much.”
- Names of foods and dishes that recall
family gatherings: black-eyed peas, that smelly broccoli dish
that Aunt Elaine always brings. Also, rituals of holidays &
family gatherings: opening one present on Christmas Eve, dressing
for church on Easter Sunday, sitting on the curb for the Fourth
of July parade.
- Names of places where you keep childhood
memories: diaries, boxes, underwear drawers, the back of the
closet, family Bible.
- Now, take your list and write a poem that
incorporates the images you have collected.
If this is difficult for you, check
out this template. You can also download a copy of
the poem and instructions. Chek out student samples from ninth and tenth grade.
- I am from _______ (specific ordinary item),
from _______ (product name) and _______.
- I am from the _______ (home description...
adjective, adjective, sensory detail).
- I am from the _______ (plant, flower,
natural item), the _______ (plant, flower, natural detail).
- I am from _______ (family tradition) and
_______ (family trait), from _______ (name of family member)
and _______ (another family name) and _______ (family name).
- I am from the _______ (description of
family tendency) and _______ (another one).
- From _______ (something you were told
as a child) and _______ (another).
- I am from (representation of religion,
or lack of it). Further description.
- I'm from _______ (place of birth and family
ancestry), _______ (two food items representing your family).
- From the _______ (specific family story
about a specific person and detail), the _______ (another detail,
and the _______ (another detail about another family member).
- I am from _______ (location of family
pictures, mementos, archives and several more lines indicating
Listen to Lyons read this