Personal Poetry Writing Activity – Where I’m From

This personal poetry activity is based on the work by George Ella Lyon. It is an easy way to help writers create poetry using what they know best – themselves!  Moreover, it is a predictable structure for which writers fill in the blanks. Writers can be creative and change the information they include or how they arrange it.  It also does not need to rhyme or have a specific rhythm or meter.

Personal poetry

Share copies of your personal poetry with writers.

 Use the included model, an alternate you found, or one you’ve written yourself.  Then ask them to read it (or have someone read it aloud) and notice how it was written, what it’s about, and how it looks.

Invite participants to share their personal poetry.

What do they notice about the poem?  Does it rhyme? What effect does rhyming or not rhyming have? Importantly, it is based on a particular person’s memories, is very specific, and uses the repeated phrase – “I am from.” The goal is to help writers understand the poem and how to imitate it.

Share/display the personal poetry handout (below)

Ask writers to read the directions — or read it aloud to them.  Writers should brainstorm by thinking about and writing down some thoughts about the questions or details on the front of the handout.  Then you can suggest some ideas, or ask a few writers to share a few of their answers to these questions.

Write your personal poetry.

The time it takes to draft a poem might vary, depending on how people choose to write – electronic devices or notebook paper and pencils.  Check with writers after 5 – 10 minutes to see how much more time they need. Then you can encourage writers who finish early to re-read what they have written and consider adding a few more details, or finding a partner to swap poems with and offer suggestions.

Share personal poetry with the group.

Invite writers to read their poems.  If it helps, offer to read their poetry to the group for them.  Avoid forcing or coercing people. Writers can then continue revising and/or publishing, on their own.

How have you implemented this strategy? Share your students’ responses or one of your own creations!

Where I’m From [Model]

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 cotton-ball 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.

—George Ella Lyon

Where I’m From (Handout)

As a model for a beautifully personal poem, the “Where I’m From” poem is perfect. In the same fashion, you will create a piece of writing that represents specific moments in your life that contribute to who you are today. Significantly, this poem encourages tolerance and awareness of our own personal experiences and can be rewritten over and over again. You’ll express where you’re from without saying the name of a city, state or country. This poem is about YOU!

You can use the following categories to list specific details related to you. Make this as specific and personal as possible. Use nicknames or words that only you or your family use. Don’t worry about readers not knowing what you’re talking about. In like manner to George Ella Lyons’ poem, you can include items, people and situations unfamiliar to readers. That’s perfectly okay, because it’s personal and particular to the poet, not the audience.

  1. Parent’s names and significant relatives
  2. Special foods or meals
  3. Family specific games or activities
  4. Nostalgic songs
  5. Stories, novels or poetry that you’ll never forget
  6. Phrases that were repeated often
  7. The best things that you were told
  8. The worst things that you have been told
  9. Family traditions
  10. Ordinary household items
  11. Religious symbols or experiences
  12. Family tendencies
  13. Accidents or traumatic experiences
  14. Family traits
  15. Specific story(ies) about a specific family member that influenced you
  16. Losses
  17. Joys
  18. Location of memories, pictures, or mementos

Select from your lists the items you want to include in your poem. You don’t have to include everything, and you can always add more categories or items later.

This post was originally included on the Write Across Chicago website by Illinois Writing Project.

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1 thought on “Personal Poetry Writing Activity – Where I’m From

  1. For a deep and powerful way to use the writing of “Where I’m From” poems to support students’ valuing of their identities and heritage, see Sara Ahmed’s new book, “Being the Change: Lessons and Strategies to Teach Social Comprehension,” esp. pp. 21-28.

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