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Most of you who are reading this newsletter have written one or more poems beginning with the words, “I am from . . .”  because  the poem from which those words come is included in my book Writing Alone and With Others and has been, since the book’s publication in 2003, the most powerful prompt I know to offer people who think they cannot write a poem.

George Ella’s poem begins:

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

One time when I wrote to this prompt, I began:

I am from oak leaf shadows on a tabernacle floor
where children played in sawdust
and grown-ups sang . . .”

Over many years I have sent to George Ella poems written in response to her lines.  One was written by a teacher who was, herself, a refugee in a camp in Africa, where Catholic Sister Maire O’Donohoe had offered the poem as a prompt. Another was written in a women’s jail near my home, where Karen Buchinsky, using the AWA method, trains leaders of workshops for incarcerated women.

Now a project named “The I AM FROM project” is asking for poems written in response to that prompt.  I hope that this notice might move AWA workshop leaders to contribute and also offer the opportunity to their writers.  Here is a letter from George Ella Lyon, author of the poem, “Where I’m From”:

THE I AM FROM PROJECT

            by George Ella Lyon

 

Dear Friends of Poetry & Democracy,
 
I’m writing to tell you about a project that Julie Landsman & I are developing in response to the rhetoric of xenophobia and isolationism that is becoming rampant in our country. In such an atmosphere, how can we find our voices and make them heard?
 
One avenue is through poetry, that heart-cry that comes to us in times of love and crisis. Because my poem, “Where I’m From” has been used widely as a writing model (most recently across Kentucky during my tenure as Poet Laureate)*, Julie–an educator, writer, and activist in Minneapolis–reached out to me with the idea of creating a national “I Am From” Project. Through Facebook**, a website, and a great network of teachers, librarians, writers, and community leaders, as well as other organizations, we hope to encourage and gather “I Am From” creations from all over the country and take them, in some form, to Washington in April of 2018.
 
The action in D.C. will be a culmination of local readings and workshops, statewide presentations, radio and TV appearances, etc., and we plan to present what we have gathered to the National Archives.  We’re encouraging creation in many directions; poems, yes, but also dance, art, song, drama—expressions which can be videoed and shared with and beyond their local audience. In terms of poetry, one of Julie’s visions is a scroll made of “I Am From” poems wrapped around a school, a library, a state capitol.  Another possibility is to put our poems on posters and have a river of poetry on the National Mall.
 
Our deepest hope is to open a way for We the People to express who this country really is, what our values are, and how they unite rather than divide us. America’s embrace is wide enough to include all of us if we put our minds and money to our common welfare.
 
We would love to have you involved in some way. Please send comments and suggestions to Julie at:

iamfromproject@gmail.com
 
or me at:

rubyjomountain@gmail.com
 
Here’s to equality and hope. Here’s to all our voices!
 
George Ella Lyon

George Ella Lyon

Kentucky Poet Laureate 2015-2016

www.georgeellalyon.com

6 Responses to A REQUEST FOR ONE OF YOUR POEMS

  • Origins
    by Bridget Bufford

    I am from skate punk, fuck off, touch my stuff and you die. I am from crystal meth, spoons and needles, paying to get high.

    I am from the belt across the back, the fist in my teeth, the polished black hard soled shoe that kicks me downstairs. I am from waking in vomit, blood and snot.

    I am from clay, impervious to pain. I am from stone, never cry no more. I am from dead ash that falls off the end of a reefer and I rub it into my pants leg. I am from the burning cigarette pressed into my skin. I am from the hidden razor, the secret switchblade knife.

    I am from a long stretch of asphalt, too stoned to see the end. I am on my bike escaping to nowhere. I am on the side of the road, hitchhiking. I am in the car of a greasy speed freak, going too fast. Ninety mph in under seven seconds, he says. I’ll let you ride if you will hold my turtle. –Whatever, let’s go, and then the horny shell surprise

    I am from Mad Dog and Thunderbird, puking down my shirt. I am from pot speed and acid, too high to die. I am from the hospital, raving, blood on my hands on my clothes is it mine? I am from four point restraint don’t tie me up god please no I can’t stand it. I’m from twenty mg. intramuscular Valium jammed in my arm, turning daylight soft and black.

    I am from walking, walking the sidewalks of St. Louis, the barrios of Phoenix. Walking the highways of Houston, walking seawalls of the Gulf Coast, walking forests of the Midwest, infested. I am from chiggers and ticks and fleas.

    I am from the fires of the Southwest, lightning strikes below the Rim. Late night fire fight red glow smoke choke burns your lungs and your feet blister in your boots. Know your crew in the ash-filled dark by a lock of hair, the looseness of a step. Know your weather, know the wind or die. Two Hotshots burned in the backfire, caught in the draw our own flares created. Burned those boys alive, seventeen and twenty-one, and there was too much smoke and ash to see. The locomotive wind drowns out the screams.

    I am from the women: Janie, the dark-haired poet. Dreadlocked Maria, molasses-colored body artist, who threads purple beads in her hair. Elisa, the golden dancer gone to Boulder. Connie, the seeker, and Carole, the listener, and Pat when I write, and Becky who loves me even though I’m sometimes pretty bad.

    I am from pen and ink, recreating my life.

    • Pat Schneider says:

      Thank you for responding, Bridget. And I am from a young woman, sitting on the floor of an old Victorian home, writing with utter courage and astonishing beauty, just as you have here.

  • I am born from lust and repulsion,
    I am born from hunger, fear and violence
    I am born from all I need to get away from
    I am born from all I need and long for
    I am born into a soft september day

    that is just what was born from this moment — out of the blue

    • Pat Schneider says:

      Thank you for responding, Verena. If you want to participate in George Ella’s project, please send your poem directly to her.

  • Joe Whelan says:

    Footprint

    I come from
    a footprint
    white breath in the cold air
    a long shadow
    cast on the path behind
    where smiles and tears
    rage red and love warm
    have shaped me
    as windblown sands
    carve and polish
    desert stones.

    • Pat Schneider says:

      Thank you for sharing your poem with me, Joe, but if you want to offer it for George Ella’s project, please send it directly to her. Best wishes — Pat

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Amherst Writers & Artists (AWA) is the organization that is carrying on the work Pat established and carried on for more than 30 years. To discover how you can write with an AWA Method Group, or become trained as an AWA facilitator, please click this link.