Writing Wonder: Where I’m From

WHERE I’M FROM by George Ella Lyon

I am from clothespins,
from Clorox and carbon-tetrachloride.
I am from the dirt under the back 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.

The potent sense of place and self in this piece has inspired many writers around the globe to draft their own.  So much so, that multiple templates are available. It is a wonderful exercise for expressing your one-of-a-kind voice.  If you haven’t already written a similar piece, try this exercise.

  1. Reread George Ella’s poem above and, if helpful to your process, others at the link in her title above for reference and inspiration.
  2. Make a long list of words you might want to use in your own poem that embody where you are from. The more specific, the better. As an example, mine included farmers, chico brush (which I changed to tumbleweeds in the poem below), fishing rods, road trips, skiing, quarter horses, San Luis Valley,  Soda Lakes, cowboy hats, gasoline …
  3. If you’d like to use one for guidance, print 3 copies of one of the templates available on the internet. I like this one.
  4. Fill out template copy #1 as round one. Keep playing with words, crossing some out and replacing with others, until you like your poem.
  5. Fill out template copy #2 with your current poem and put it away for at least two days to let it rest.
  6. From the second copy, read your poem aloud and continue playing with words, moving phrases, etc. Use the third copy of the template to continue working on your poem, as needed.
  7. Transcribe your finished poem from the template into final form.
  8. Send your poem to your family and friends, and ask them to send one back. And, pretty please share your results in the comments below.

You might also like these additional writing exercises.

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Categories: writing exercises

6 Comments on “Writing Wonder: Where I’m From”

  1. March 3, 2013 at 1:56 pm #

    IN THE ROCKIES
    By Christine Houser

    I am from tumbleweeds and dusty wind,
    from green chili and rodeos.
    I am from deep snow and high desert,
    and bellbottoms over Rossignols.
    I am from leftover steak for breakfast,
    pancakes and eggs for dinner,
    from water dogs in the lake
    whose ripples have gone thinner and thinner.

    I’m from paperbacks and filling stations,
    from Ona, Ilma, and Sandra.
    I am from big hugs and tan smiles,
    and the waving off of I-love-yas.

    I’m from Howdy! and How ya doin’?,
    and from Get your butt movin’.
    I’m from road trips and bonfires,
    from sun-kissed antelope
    and pickups with bald tires.

    In my pocket are pinon nuts,
    out the back door are quarter horses.
    In the Rockies,
    where I’m from, no one imposes.

  2. Lynn Worley
    July 6, 2013 at 4:14 pm #

    CHILD OF SUMMER by Lynn Worley

    I am from wringer washers,
    from clothes drying on the line and a coal chute in the basement.
    I am from the inner city in an 8-family flat,
    then moving to the county with The Big Oak to climb.
    I am from the Big Muddy flooding miles inland
    enriching the soil as it destroyed homes.

    I am from “my word is my bond” to stubborn as a mule,
    and Sunday school followed by fried chicken suppers.
    I never knew hunger, but knew we were poor,
    with ugly dresses made by Aunt Margie,
    that I had to wear because it was all I had.

    I am from baseball when there were only wooden bats,
    with only boys for teammates…and All-Star kids’ teams
    that didn’t say Girls Need Not Apply.
    I am from the time when parents could go off to work
    and not worry about the kids’ safety all day long.

    I am from summer when the air was alight with fireflies,
    to thunder and lightning that shook the whole house.
    Playing Monopoly on the screened back porch,
    And only frozen seafood, with fish sticks on Friday night.

    I am from the plains to the mountains and now the desert,
    loving each in its disparate grandeur, wanting only to be outside.
    Pausing in huge cities because work required it, yet loving them too.
    I adored the turquoise convertible that transported me for 21 years,
    open to the passing scenery and sun, letting summer enfold me.

    I am from a June birthday, and hating the opening of school in September.
    It meant that summer was over, and I had to go indoors.
    Now I get to choose, and I choose summer all year ‘round.

    • July 6, 2013 at 4:27 pm #

      Lynn, thank you so much for letting me twist your arm into sharing your poem. It’s wonderfully evocative and I really appreciate the encouragement it provides for others. I owe you one. :)

  3. July 6, 2013 at 5:11 pm #

    I’m Grateful To Be “From”
    by Galen Pearl

    I’m from fireflies
    and the only kind of BBQ sandwich worth eatin’ with the slaw right on top
    and heat so humid the sweat never evaporates
    It trickles from your hair and stings your eyes

    I’m from summer storms
    that announce their approach with ozone smells and darkening skies
    and quiet just before the wind whips up
    and distant rumbles make the dog skittish
    until minutes later it crashes overhead
    The thunder beats your chest like a kettle drum
    makin’ you feel more alive than you can stand

    I’m from the fragrance of horse manure
    and the warm dusty coat of my old nag
    her nostrils blowing hay breath
    as she soft lips the apple core from my open palm

    I’m from being raised to be pretty
    and not beat the boys at sports or any game
    to marry the right man
    and make babies to dress up for Sunday church

    I’m from maids getting off the bus
    and admiration for my first black classmate
    who was so dignified and proud
    who taught me what integrity looks like
    and courage too

    I’m from the time of leaders being shot
    and students sitting in
    and tryin’ to make sense of what made no sense
    and still doesn’t

    I’m from “That’s just the way things are”
    I don’t live there anymore
    There’s things I miss
    and things I loved
    and I’m grateful to be “from”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Bookstores Will Never Be The Same For Me Again | Andrea Beltran - June 5, 2013

    […] PenPal Project, and if you’re in need of a writing exercise, I’m fond of the Where I’m From exercise on her […]

  2. Top 5 posts of 2013 | FlashMemoirs - January 4, 2014

    […] Not just popular with readers, this idea generated an extraordinary project among my writerly friends and resulted in a beautiful hand-bound collection of poems for each of us. We learned so many wondrous things about each other – and ourselves – by completing this exercise. Thank you George Ella Lyon. Writing Wonder: Where I’m From  http://flashmemoirs.com/2013/03/03/where-im-from-writing-exercise/ […]

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