Monday, September 9, 2013


We all have stories to tell.

We share them with friends in brief anecdotes.
In humorous or mournful or matter-of-fact ways, we tell the events and share the encounters that weave in and out of our lives each day.

We also write longer pieces to record, to justify,  to remember, to memorialize our relationships and lives  in a larger context.

We all have stories of all sorts to tell.

In memoir or memory writing we look back over our lives-- or a portion of our lives-- to reflect and analyze from a distance--both in time and space-- to consider not only the whats and whens and wheres, but the hows and whys and so whats of our lives.
For more about memoir writing see my related posts, Memoir and Memory Writing Part 1 and Memoir and Memoir Writing Part 2.

It may seem overwhelming to look back over our entire lives.  So much has happened, and even if we consider the happenings to be ordinary and mundane, there are undeniably many through which we must sort.

It may seem an impossible task to even begin to organize the events and people, the successes and failures, the questions and answers, the aspirations, hopes and dreams that constitute each of our lives.

Poetry is the perfect way to capture the overall arc and feel of our lives. Poetry is also the place to magnify and examine the small details that make us who we are.

There are several  mentor poems that show us ways to organize, summarize, explore, and write our lives in poetic form.

Probably the best known is Where I'm From by George Ella Lyon.

For a number of years we used her poem as a mentor text for writing about our lives in the Columbus Area Writing Project summer institute.  Using  this poem as our map, we have been led to exciting explorations, deep discoveries, and rich writing. As we talk with participants of other summer institute participants across the country, and as evidenced on the National Writing Project  E-Anthology,  we are not alone in our successful Where I'm From experiences.

As you check out Lyon' s website , you will find not only George Ella Lyon's poem, but also a wealth of resources to take you beyond this starting place-- including Lyon reading her own poem, videos (a visual Where I'm From),  samples of Where I'm From poems written by others, and many suggestions for ways this poem can lead to further writing experiences. Click here to read  my own Where I'm From poem written in my initial summer institute in 2005.

In Momma, Where Are You From?  by Marie Bradby, a young girl poses this  title question to her mother.  For the first several pages, Mama responds in the familiar poetic format of  Lyon's poem.   This beautiful book, illustrated by Chris Soentpiet, will support writers as they develop their own poetic responses to this same question.

In 2010, one of our participants extended this experience by asking us to meet in pairs to read and then respond to each other's poems with an additional I Am Also From poem, in which we addressed lines from our partner's poem in our own new poem.  This provided us not only an opportunity to highlight our unique experiences, but  also to recognize shared experiences, as well.  Click here to read my I Am Also From poem, written during this lesson.

Where are you from?

While Lyon's poem is by far the most familiar, there are other poems that support us as we set out to write about our lives.

Kelly Norman Ellis offers a similar and equally generative model for telling our own stories in her poem Raised by Women. In considering the women who raised her, she is also telling us who she is and how she became this person.  Her style, while clearly different from Lyon's, offers us another way to explore our lives and poetically record our discoveries.  Click here to watch a video of Ellis reading her poem.

Who raised you?

The Biopoem has also become a favorite in classrooms and writing groups.  It is an eleven line poem about a person - yourself,  a friend or family member, an historic person, or literary  figure, as well.  There is a specific formula that is traditionally used, although modifying or creating your own formula is an obvious option.

Line 1 First Name
Line 2 Who is ……………………. (3/4 describing words)
Line 3 Daughter/son of ……………………….
Line 4 Who loves …………………………….
Line 5 Who dislikes ………………………….
Line 6 Who needs …………………………...
Line 7 Who feels …………………………….
Line 8 Who fears ……………………………
Line 9 Who would like to see………………..
Line 10 Who lives …………………………..
Line 11 Last Name
NCTE's ReadWriteThink offers a ten-line variation  of this popular form.

What would you write about yourself in eleven lines?
What words describe you?

Finally, I recently  read a poem from Rattle, that caused me to think about all the ways we record our lives. History by Justin Runge provides us with a perfect way to collect our family stories, the ones we have heard over and over that have entered into the realm of unchallenged family lore, as well as those that  we have not heard before that sneak up and surprise us one day.  I never knew that.  I never heard that before.

What is your family history?
What happened before you were born?

Who are you?

Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

Reflect on who you are and how you came to be that person.

Where are you from? 
Who raised you?   
What words describe you?
What happened in your family and the world before you were born?

Choose one of the above poems as your mentor text  to help you write your own poetic memoir.

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