Friday, July 13, 2018

I am from project

Greetings from Chicago, where I'm attending the very wonderful Poetry Foundation's Summer Poetry Teachers Institute.

I'll get into all the details of this wonderful experience next week when I host, but for today I just want to point you in a very hopeful direction....

As always in these poetry teaching workshops, George Ella Lyon's celebrated poem "Where I'm From" is offered up as a way to help young writers see that the details of their own true lived experience can be the stuff of poetry.  Here's the poem, if you somehow haven't run across it before.

Where I'm From | George Ella Lyon
 I am from clothespins,
from Clorox and carbon-tetrachloride.
I am from the dirt under the back porch.
(Black, glistening,
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.

While we worked with the poem and our own memories (my piece is called "How I Left Red Behind"), I popped over to George Ella's website and found this note from her:

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 so 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 October of 2018.  The action in D.C. will be a culmination of local readings and workshops, statewide presentations, radio and TV appearances, and more.

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:
or me at:

Here’s to equality and hope. Here’s to all our voices!
George Ella Lyon

I just wanted to make sure that all my friends in this Poetry Friday community were aware of this inspiring project, which I hope to give some on-the-ground support in the DC area.  Sylvia is rounding  us up today at Poetry for Children where I think we'll all learn even more about the book that's popping up everywhere, Great Morning!


  1. Heidi, this is a an amazing project that George Ella Lyon and Julie Landsman have designed. I think that an outcry needs to happen on why America needs to be embraced as a land of the free as opposed to a land of the divided. Poetry is a great vehicle to have voices rise in unison. Thank you for sharing this. I recently used Lyon's poem at a PD workshop and know that this poem will be the catalyst for a tapestry of thoughts about America.

  2. Cool! Thank you for letting us know about this. I haven't tried to write one of these myself, but I will. I'd be interested to see what my kids have to say, too.

  3. Such a wonderful, unifying idea. Also looking forward to your post - and tips - next week!

  4. Heidi, this is wonderful! I'm from forsythia and old time religion too. I really look forward to hearing more details about the work you are doing AND the Where I'm From project. What a fabulous response to our current world.

  5. What a wonderful idea, poem and protest. I'd love to be part of such a movement.

  6. I can't wait to hear about your week in Chicago. This I am From project is exciting. I need to think more about how to get involved and get kids involved. Thanks!

  7. So great - can't wait to see where the project goes! I love doing Where I'm From poems with my students, and all of them, young as they are, know that you can be from more than one country at the same time, and that that makes you stronger, not weaker, and it makes the country stronger too. Do we get to read your poem?

  8. I'll share this with the #cyberpd community -- it goes perfectly with the identity work in the book we're reading (Being the Change by Sara Ahmed).

  9. What a wonderful, important project Heidi.

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  11. I lovelovelove this poem and have written "I Am From" poems with students a few times. What a great project--I hope it gathers steam, especially once the school year begins. Thanks, Heidi!

  12. I love hearing about George Ella's project-- thanks for sharing. And I absolutely cannot wait to read more about your experiences at the Institute! So glad you're getting this opportunity!

  13. Oh I love the idea of a "where I'm From" project--perfect for where we are as a country right now. Looking forward to hearing about your workshop.

  14. I loved using the WHere I'm From poem as a model and prompt when I was teaching. It was one of the ways I built community in my classroom--creating a collaborative Where I'm From Poem for each class as well as sharing mine and those of individual students I love this project to gather and share Where I'm From creations from around the country.

  15. What an exciting project and rich poem, thanks for sharing them with us Heidi. I was just at the Poetry Foundation on Saturday for a workshop, if you read this and have any free time send me an email–Welcome to the "Windy City," your in my hometown,

  16. I had never done this poem type before, but posted one on FB today. Tried the "form" online at: for an interesting "fill in the blanks" poem starter.

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