Many years ago, I found George Ella Lyons’ poem, ‘Where I’m From’ in a collection of American poets’ advice for young writers. It provides a welcoming frame for our own writing. It begins like this:
I am from clothespins, From Clorox and carbon tetra-chloride, I am from the dirt under the back porch, (Black, glistening, it tasted like beets.)
I haven’t used it for a while. I find that the poem prompts us to think about the telling details of our early lives or, for younger writers, where they ‘come from’ now. We can include things people say, brand names, the words from songs, family sayings, TV catch phrases. The concrete details of things have the power to conjure up a particular time and place.
It is one of the poems that the poet Kate Clanchy has included in her book, How to Grow Your Own Poem(2020). She also mentions an on-line project based on the Lyons poem. The I am From Project invites us all to add our own versions and interpretations of the poem to the website, to record our lives now at this time of pandemic and to celebrate diversity.
The website includes the original poem and a new one for these times. There are many poems and a section of teaching resources.