Writing Mini-Lessons: Where I’m From, Poetry of Place and Identity
“If you wake up at a different time, in a different place, could you wake up as a different person?”
~ Chuck Palahniuk
“Who am I?” is an important question. It is a question each of us asks at some time—or perhaps many times—in our life. As we search to define ourselves, we begin to ponder myriad questions: How is our identity formed? To what extent are we defined by our talents, tastes, and interests; by our membership in a particular ethnic or friendship group; by our social and economic class; by our family values or religion; by the place we live? Answers to these questions help us better understand ourselves and others.
There has always been a special bond between the place and identity, and the idea of place may extend beyond simple geography. Reflect on the following questions:
- What does it mean to be “from” some place? How can the place we are from influence our identities—who we are?
- Is it possible to be from more than one place? How might our identities change depending on where we are?
- Can people be from a “place” that is not an actual location, but represents a community or an idea—such as being from a family, a religious tradition or a strong interest?
Your answer to these questions form the foundation for your "Where I’m From" poem. In their best incarnations, “Where I’m From” poems get beyond aspects of identity that are often more obvious and familiar—such as ethnicity, gender, and age—by focusing on place as geographical and more, intertwined with other factors that shape our identities such as experiences, relationships, hopes, and interests. “Where I’m from” poems may help clarify important elements of identity, as well as build peer relationships and foster a cohesive, empathetic learning community.
After you have reflected on the aforementioned questions related to identity and place, brainstorm specific words and phrases that represent where you are from. Consider the following categories as you brainstorm:
- Names of important people related to this place (relatives, friends, etc.)
- Special foods or meals eaten in this place
- Traditions practiced in this place
- Favorite songs and stories
- Familiar phrases or sayings used in this place
- Ordinary items found in this place
- Important beliefs valued in this place
- Heroes of this place
- Significant events (happy and/or sad) that have happened in this place
- Images that represent this place
- Sounds that represent this place
- Smells that represent this place
- Emotions that are evoked by this place
“Where I’m From” Samples
Where I’m From
I am from clothespins,
from Clorox and carbon-tetrachloride.
I am from the dirt under the back porch.
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.
~ George Ella Lyon
Where I’m From
I am from “Close your eyes and open your mouth.”
(Never knowing what you’re going to get shoved into your mouth)
I’m from termites biting through our wooden porch,
I am from splinters, cuts, and scraped knees
I am from the thick woods in my backyard,
from Avocado and Sycamore trees
and from the big Oak tree,
that we climbed on and fell off
a numerous amount of times
I’m from Bugs Bunny shaped pancakes
on Sunday mornings with a glass of ice-cold milk
I am from Baja Fresh,
hot tortillas and refried beans.
I am from cutting my thumb open
to a glass thermometer in the hot tub
I am from Monday Night Football,
from the seventh inning stretch
in a Baltimore Orioles game
I’m from almost-retired Michael Jordan (on the Wizards)
and from Cal Ripken Jr.
I am from Cedar Grove Elementary School
where “Butthead” was an overused and annoying word.
I am from pizza on Fridays and cold soup on Mondays
and from the rickety, old, yellow school bus
that would always arrive first to school
Sitting carefully, on my dining room table is a photo
of my family and me. I am from these small memories that
are stored and captured for my family and the generations
ahead, to see
~ Alex G.
Where I’m From
I am from kettle chips,
from the rock I used to keep under my bed,
and from the Beatles, especially Paul.
I am from the catnip plant in the garden
whose triangular leaves I remember
as if they are my own.
I am from Pay Days and Nik-L-Nips
from Clyde Dexter and Larry Bird,
from “Take a chill pill” and the Boston Red Sox.
I am from the Brady Bunch
and the scar on my finger.
I am from rec league soccer,
from Antoine Walker and Paul Pierce.
In the closet are ancient scrolls,
mementoes of my lost ages.
I am from those memories.
Scribed down before this age,
they waited for our family tree
to grow me.
~ Jacob Miller
Where I’m From
I’m from cub scouts
and bazooka bubblegum,
from “squeeze my finger”
and “just try it – you’ll like it,”
from Harriet the Spy,
and blackberries behind the house,
from baseball games in hip-high grass,
from Crosby, Stills, and Nash,
Robison and Friedman,
and Dinah Washington.
I’m from thirty years in California,
smiles in a pink photo album,
the twinkle in your eye.
~ Hallie Herz
A few additional samples can be found amongst the Student Free Verse Samples.
“Where I’m From” Poem Prewriting Preparation
Answer the following questions to help prepare you to write your “Where I’m From” poem:
- Describe where you live. What does it look like? What does it smell like? What does it feel like? (This could be your actual house, or it could be another place that represents where you are from.)
- What objects or belongings can be found in your home or room (list at least three)?
- What are the names of people in your “family” (they could be alive or deceased; they do not need to be blood-relations)?
- List two or three family traditions.
- What phrases, words or sayings are important to you or to members of your family?
- What are some beliefs that represent where you are from?
- What foods are important to you or your family?
- List two or three important childhood memories.
- Describe the weather where you are from?
- What do people do where you are from?
- What are your favorite things to do?
Compose Your Poem
Do not feel limited by your prewriting. Use only the ideas from your brainstorming and prewriting preparation that you love or that speak strongly to who you are. “Where I’m From” poems do not all follow the exact same structure, but they often begin with the phrase “I am from…” of "From…." As you compose your poem, add any new words and phrases that emerge in the process of describing where you are from. Remember that it is your job as a poet to transport the readers into the world you create, so add enough description to give your readers a “being there” experience.
Share your poem with your team. After you have heard everyone’s poem, silently reflect again on the relationship between place and identity. Ask yourself these questions, and then you and your team members will share your responses:
- How does where we are from influence who we are?
- What does it mean to be “from” a place? Is a “place” always a physical location or could it be something else?
- What is the connection between place and belonging? Is it possible to be from more that one place?
- How is identity affected when we move from one place to another? What might stay the same? What might change?