Where I’m From: The Poem Sent Round the World

I haven’t been around here for a while. I’ve been busy doing this and that, and sometimes not much at all. But when a writer gets a gift, they have to take it. Today, I received one in the form of a writing prompt.

Writing prompts sometimes work, sometimes they don’t. This one, from HerStories Writers did what it was supposed to. It started the wheels of creativity turning. I finished the prompt and here I am even writing a blog post about it. So you know it had to be a good prompt.

So What’s the Prompt?

The prompt is based on the poem, “Where I’m From” by the Appalachian poet, George Ella Lyon. She wrote the poem as a response to a poem she heard by another poet, Jo Carson’s, “Stories I Ain’t Told Nobody Yet.” Lyon used two of the lines as a the starting point for her poem, which said, “I am from Interstate 40” and “I am from the work my father did.”

She liked the idea of repeating the words “I am from…” into her own list poem. Lyon had so much fun and didn’t want to stop when she was done. She used the list exercise with writers and it took off into many forms and many prompts in the more than 20 years since.

The prompt I did today was simple. I was to read Lyon’s poem and start as she did with “I am from …” and continue on from there, not thinking to hard or long about it. I was to remember places, names, and specific details as she does in her poem, but make it mine.

There are numerous prompts and templates for using the poem as a starting point and you’ll find many when you search for “Where I’m From” writing prompt. Here is just one (PDF) that includes a template to follow like MadLibs, lesson plans, brainstorming templates, and suggestions from the author on how to expand beyond her original idea.

Lyon also has resources on her website about the poem and is collecting poems and artwork from the public through the I AM FROM project which is bringing together voices from all over the USA. They are looking for place-based stories, poems, lines, images, videos, quilt squares, that will ultimately be shared in Washington DC as a sign of the strength of diversity and celebrates the multifaceted individuals of our planet.

You can hear Lyon read her poem here:

Lake Michigan high waves breakwater and lighthouse

My Version

And here is my version:

Where I’m From

I am from ice-cold water,
Lake Michigan salmon
and high, eroded bluffs.

I am from lake breezes
and cool summer days.

I am from many,
nine to be exact:
chuckrickbobpaulmarykaygary
pattietommycathy
always in that order. 

I am from the park behind my house,
part willow tree,
part shack,
part rocketship,
and ice rink. 

Map of Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg with Luxembourg Highlighted

I am from Luxembourg,
a country as big as
the smallest state in the U.S.

What About You? Have you heard of this poem before or done the prompt? Are you a teacher, and have you taught it? Will you now? Let me know if you write your own version by leaving a link below.


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6 comments

Add Yours
  1. Lorna

    I love the idea of this project and your poem. Especially the twist. My own version is problematic, too. But I’ll write more of everything to see where all my homes fit.

  2. charmaine macdonald

    That is lovely and I have written poetry before but not in a long time. I am so busy nowadays, I barely have time to do all that I wish I could do. I have a youtube channel and would love to write the poem and make the corresponding video as its a lovely idea but it takes time. A wonderful idea though and I really enjoyed it.

    • Catherine Lanser

      I love it too. I’m so happy to have found it. Let me know how it goes for you. You could do one for all the places you’ve been from.

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