Write down a list of questions to ask of someone (or something) you encounter on your outing. You can speak directly to the subject or else ask the questions generally. This list of questions might prove to be a poem in itself, or it may trigger a poem which provides an answer to one or more of the questions.
White Goat, is your name Billie?
What are you thinking as you
Twist your head around the feeding bin?
Do you miss your kids?
Are they crying for you?
Will you be with them ever again?
Cheryl Bromley Jones, teacher
Do skyscrapers ever grow tired
of holding themselves up high?
Do they ever shiver on frosty nights
with their tops against the sky?
Do they get lonely sometimes
because they have grown so tall?
Do they ever wish they could lie right down
and never get up at all?
Write a letter as a poem, addressing someone or something you encounter on your outing.
Malcolm, My Man
Malcolm (my man!)
You don’t know me.
But I know you.
I dream of you.
In your blackness I see myself.
I long to be the man you once were.
What you are.
Who you are.
That is all that matters to you.
You’re like no one I’ve ever known.
I see all in your eyes.
Malcolm (my man!)
Man with no fear,
show me the way.
Malcolm, you had so far to go.
Death, so bloody.
Still it was a gift.
The end was inevitable and so was your memory.
True men live forever.
That is the way it will always be. Forever.
That is what I want to be.
Duane Shorter, student.
Where I’m From Writing Prompt
This student-centered writing activity also builds community by allowing students to share who they are with one another in a strikingly poetic way.
Step One: Students write “Where I’m From” at the top of their paper. Tell them they will be writing about where they are from, either now or in the past.
Step Two: Have students generate lists of the following:
• Familiar sights, sounds, and smells of their home and neighborhood.
• Familiar foods, especially those associated with holidays, birthdays, and other celebrations.
• Familiar sayings and expressions overheard in and around the place where they grew up.
• Other details: Relatives’ names, Church experiences, common objects, street names, hiding places, plants growing in the yard, etc.
Step Three: Share “Where I’m From” by George Ella Lyon with the students. For this activity I like to place the poem’s text on an overhead so we’re all looking at the same copy. Have two or three students take turns reading the poem aloud.
Step Four: If there’s time, I like to discuss with students why George Ella Lyon’s words are so recognizable as a poem. If possible, divide students into discussion groups before sharing as a whole class. Notice that this type of student-centered discussion allows the young poets to begin to define poetry using their own terminology and based upon whatever prior knowledge they happen to bring with them to class.
What makes “Where I’m From” a poem?
• repetition (of the “I am from” phrase).
• Unexpected substitution of a location with sensory images. We typically think of ourselves as being from a place, not objects (clothes pins), sayings (perk up and pipe down), or food (fried corn and strong coffee).
• Creating a montage of images that combine to create an impression that no linear narrative can match. • Language that appeals to the senses. The reader can taste the beet-flavored dirt, see grandfathers missing finger, and hear the bible verses.
• She uses the proper names of things: forsythia, Dutch elm, Imogene and Alafar, and carbon-tetrachloride. Poets recognize and celebrate the natural music created by a thing’s proper name.
• Musical language in phrases such as “sift of lost faces,” “long gone limbs,” “Clorox and carbon-tetrachloride.”
• The lines turn intentionally whether “end stopped” or “run on,” and the words that hang along the poem’s right margin are all very strong and visual.
Step Five: Read Lyon’s original poem once more. If possible, share a student example or two from another class. Explain to your students that we are each “from” more than just a place. We are from all those memories and details that have shaped us into what we have become. The “where” of George Ella Lyon’s poem is much more than a city or town.
Step Six: Instruct your young writers to create their own poems or rich narratives using Lyon’s poem as a model. By using Lyon’s poem as a model, young writers will be practicing many effective poetic devices that will shape their memories into poetry. You’ll be amazed with the strong imagistic language that results and the interest shown during sharing as students discover new details about one another’s histories.
SHARING IDEA: If you don’t have time to share every poem, you can have each student read his or her favorite detail aloud. The effect is a montage of memories and sensory images that simultaneously celebrate each student’s uniqueness and the whole group’s diversity.