Five O'Clock Somewhere

Welcome to Five O'Clock Somewhere, where it doesn't matter what time zone you're in; it's five o'clock somewhere. We'll look at rural life, especially as it happens in Rio Arriba County, New Mexico, cats, sailing (particularly Etchells racing yachts), and bits of grammar and Victorian poetry.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Poetry Corner: George Ella Lyons

A beginning-of-term exercise

Last fall, shortly after I learned I was going to be teaching a section of English 0550, I saw an article in the local newspaper about a teacher who took this poem and adapted it to an exercise for his elementary-school students. The poem, titled “Where I’m From,” is about the poet’s background, and her sense of self, coming from rural West Virginia. The exercise was for the students to read this poem and then, based on a template, create their own poems about “Where I’m From.” This, I figured, would be the perfect beginning-of-term exercise for English 0550, where about two thirds of the students come from someplace that English isn’t the primary language, and even the English-speaking students have varied backgrounds.

When I went to the newspaper’s website to download the article, including sidebars of poetry from the teacher’s local students, I couldn’t find it. But when I did a search on the Internet, I found a template – not exactly the same as the one that the Albuquerque teacher used, but close enough.

First, let’s look at the original poem, by George Ella Lyons. You can find the poem itself, plus a writing workshop project inspired by the poem, here.

Where I'm From
by George Ella Lyons

I am from clothespins,
from Clorox and carbon-tetrachloride.
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.

Here is the template that I found, created by Fred First, that students can use to create their own “Where I’m From” poem. You can find the original template here, plus First’s own “Where I’m From.” I’ve taken the liberty of correcting a couple of typos in the original.

The WHERE I'M FROM Template

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 their worth).

Finally, here’s my own “Where I’m From”:

I am from the night shift, from Central New Mexico Community College and after-hours fast food.

I am from the postwar low-budget tract house, solid masonry, Pueblo style.

I am from the umbrella catalpa and the cottonwood, the two saplings that became monarchs by the time we bought the house.

I am from turkey at Thanksgiving and Christmas, and red hair artificially maintained after Mother Nature stopped doing the job, from Munzy and Grandma Seeger.

I am from the love of words and wordplay, and from just plain being curious about everything.

From “Don’t dilly-dally on the way home from school” and “It’s five o’clock, time to feed the cat.”

I am kinda sorta Presbyterian, went on church mission trips to build houses in Mexico (solid masonry, no catalpas).

I am from California and Arkansas and New Mexico with little bits of all over the place, macaroni and cheese and fried okra.

From the blind date that my parents met on at the same college where I met my husband; Uncle Charles who got tired of waiting for the U.S. to join WWII, so he went to Canada to join the RCAF; Great-Aunt Anne who was both a career woman and the sole support of her 13 younger brothers and sisters in the 1920s.

I am from no particular place, no central records. I am just me.

Here is the challenge for all of the eight or so regular readers of this blog: Create your own “Where I’m From” poem and post it on your own blog, or if you don’t have your own blog, put it in the comments here. I bet most of you will be more creative than I have been.

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Blogger Vic Burkhammer said...

What a beautiful idea. The poems that were made from it -- how wonderful!

I like it that the abstract and the hard-to-say became concrete and sayable.

Mon Jan 14, 09:16:00 PM MST  
Blogger Litoralis said...

I wrote one here.

Sun Jan 20, 07:21:00 PM MST  
Blogger bonnie said...

Well, I gave it a shot.

A little tricky for a Navy brat & besides the verse got overly enthusiastic about being free & sort of ran off the road.

But it was entertaining & I've been enjoying reading the various results!

Mon Jan 21, 11:05:00 PM MST  
Blogger Tillerman said...

Where I'm From.

Tue Jan 22, 05:42:00 PM MST  
Blogger Carol Anne said...

Great stuff. The neat thing with a challenge like this one is that there aren't really any rules about how long or short or poetic or prosy something has to be. It's been fun reading all of your works.

Wed Jan 23, 10:14:00 PM MST  
Blogger PinkPanther said...

Hi, Carol:
Interesting post to attract me for dropping it and I learnt a lot from u.

Here is my mine and start to know me a bit:

I am from a well-known city in PRC originally a county renamed city of Dr. Sun ZhongShan, from casual wear clothing and almond cakes.
I am from an educational back-ground family.
I am from the banana land and pineapple land where are very famous in my hometown where you have to check it out.
I am from non-religion family, but have to follow a bit Buddhism rules and black hair, blown eyes, from Mr. Pang’s generation.

I am from the know-it-alls and pass-it-on(s).
From where I came from and why I have to live.
I am from nothing.
I'm from ShaXi of PRC, Chicken and cream soup.
From the granduncle who was a soldier in Hawaii around in 1950 yr. He had been worked as a Chef in an Naval Vessel also.
I am from no information could be tell.

Fri Jan 25, 01:57:00 AM MST  
Blogger George Ella Lyon said...

Dear Carol Anne,

I'm the author of "Where I'm From" and enjoyed reading your blog. I'm so glad you found the poem useful for you and your students.

You might like to know that I'm from the coal fields of eastern Kentucky--a lot like West Virginia but not quite. And I have a book with a lot of other writing exercises in it called WHERE I'M FROM, WHERE POEMS COME FROM.

For more information about me and my books, and to hear me read the poem, go to:

All best wishes in your teaching and writing,

George Ella

Tue Apr 29, 03:57:00 PM MDT  

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