Thursday, May 14, 2015

"Where I'm From..." by George Ella Lyon

I designed WORD SOUP for groups of about 12 people; the first time I presented it for Field's End, we had six or seven participants. This year, we had 18 people at our first session - the beautiful West Reading Room at the Poulsbo library was filled with writers!

The energy around the table was positive and friendly; participants were ready to get right to work (which is really play). It is a joy to see people writing freely, and to have so many of them willing to share what they had written, reading it aloud to the group. We write to prompts, so we are sharing our first-draft work. It takes courage to share your work in a new group, especially writing which you haven't had time to polish, and I see plenty of courage - and talent - in this group.

What makes WORD SOUP especially fun is the fact that I do not allow ANY criticism of this first-draft work; we share only what we remember about the writing which has been read aloud, and what we enjoyed in it. These practices make for a safe, encouraging environment, which allows imagination to flow freely.

Last evening,  I read aloud a poem which was given to me by the out-going leader of Field's End, Barbara Clarke (author of "Getting to Home"). Here it is:

"Where I’m From…" by 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.

Isn't that a beautiful way to express one's roots?

I offered the poem as a writing prompt for the group. Since I write to the same prompts while the students write, below is my own rough version of "Where I'm From..." I've been tinkering with it, because I am not accustomed to writing poetry; it would be a good idea to consult my poet friends to hear their thoughts.
Where I'm From... by Karen Boren Gerstenberger
I'm from saltwater and sand
Barnacles and Indian beads
I'm from starry nights and wave-song
Salty air and sea-breeze,
Bonfires and make-believe.

I'm from grass stains and cedar cones
Pine pitch and blackberries
Old Man Ghost and Sardines
Beach seines and rope swings.

I'm from the Gold Rush and Great Depression,
Pioneer Square and Capital Hill,
Enatai and Medina,
California and Washington
Kent Valley farm and Olympic Hotel.

I'm from Bavaria and Alsace-Lorraine,
Bronze plaques and fortunes scattered,
Ivy League and West Coast 
Ancient faith and new covenant.

But really, I'm from
Saltwater, lapping the shores of sacred Indian ground.
I'm grateful to my colleagues at Field's End, the program staff at Kitsap Regional Library, WORD SOUP groups, and my family for making this work possible. It is a joy!


Kim Andersen said...

Wonderful! How nice it would be to live closer you and I! I would have loved to sit at that table :)

Karen Gerstenberger said...

Kim, I agree - and would have loved to have you join us! Perhaps this summer you could make a day trip to Poulsbo?

Kim Andersen said...
Link to a you tube video of a poem read by fashion designer Yellowtail. It's a beautiful example of a "where I'm from poem"

Kim Andersen said...

I think i will :)

Karen Gerstenberger said...

Wow, Kim - that poem is powerful! Thanks for sharing the link.