Friday, September 17, 2010

Creative Prompt - a Poem, Where I'm From

Creative Prompt - a Poem, Where I'm From
by Susan Stephenson,

My article today is the second in a series of prompts that I hope might spark some creative expression in your kids, and maybe you too. Our first prompt last Friday was a general one; today we look at a specific poem and use that as a prompt.

Because I research and write so many articles for this blog and others, I find I have to carve back time in my life for creativity and creative writing. Lately, I've been playing with poetry and other prompts as a way to not only have fun with words, but to develop my creativity muscles. When I got to this one in my folder, it occurred to me that if I, a non-poet, found it accessible, kids might too. I think it would be great to do in a writing workshop, or as a family activity. If your children are too young for it just yet, try it yourself. I found it an easy model to follow, and also a way to mine my memories for significant aspects of my life - things that made me who I am today.

What I did

I chose to respond to this prompt in writing, and to write a similar poem. You might choose to respond with art work, by creating a song, or developing a dance. I am going to share with you how I came up with my response, but this is by no means the right way, or the only way. 

First of all, here's the poem I used for my prompt: Where I'm From by George Ella Lyon. (You can hear the poet herself read the poem aloud by following that link.)

I read her poem several times. I thought about who I am, and the things that contributed to that. I sought for flavours, words, issues, people and culture that had shaped my life, and then jotted down my own list. Once it was done, I tidied it a little, but basically my poem is a list format. Oh, and I sprinkled some punctuation around too - anyone else have no idea how to punctuate this kind of blank verse?

Where I'm From
by Susan Stephenson

I am from cubbies,
dark caves of delight,
woven from bark and dreams.

I am from playground dust
and melted asphalt,
sheltered by camphor laurel tree.

I am from William Tell
and Robin Hood,
my heroes in the box.

I am from kookaburras
and kangaroos,
and tempering disaster with a cup of tea.

I am from sour milk at playlunch,
and Vegemite sandwiches,
and bananas that don't travel well.

I am from stolen children
and yellow peril
and 'ave a go yer mug.

I am my father -
spot a weed at thirty paces,
tidy tools away
and live to learn.

I am my mother -
but struggling against it.
The glass half-full
is now half-empty.

I am Australian.
Free to be me -
as soon as I discover
who that is.

That's it! I don't think it's great poetry BUT I do think it captures a little of where I'm from. As Lyon herself says,"Remember, you are the expert on you. No one else sees the world as you do; no one else has your material to draw on. You don't have to know where to begin. Just start. Let it flow. Trust the work to find its own form."

What about you? Where are you from?


Here's a response to the prompt from Callie, of Sit-a-While blog. Isn't it interesting to see another interpretation of the same prompt?

Where I'm From

I'm from Oak Park, Illinois
I lived on a street called Gunderson
where I could walk around the corner
and see the Sears Tower
standing tall in the distance
I knew Spring was on its way
when I could smell Gary, Indiana.
The city's distinct smell
of old French fries
gliding toward Chicago
alerted me that soon
I'd be wearing flip flops.
My friends and I would stop by
the Farrara Pan Candy factory
as soon as we could smell what candy was being made that day.
Smells of cinnamon in the air
stung my nose,
and I could almost taste the Red Hots.
The best days 
were the days
when the factory
was making jelly beans.
For a quarter
the ladies at the factory
would hand us brown lunch bags
with freshly made jelly beans
the size of nickels.
I always ate the red ones first.

Thanks, Callie!


Here's a response to the prompt from Ruth, of Li-Bear-y Corner. Different again, but just as evocative as Callie's!

I am from Music In My Memories 
by Ruth Ferris

I am from cast iron fry pans, from Hershey’s chocolate and homemade bread.

I am from cheap apartments, cramped, and crowded, but kids allowed.

I am from prickly pear cactus, and Lodge Pole Pine

I am from Easter Baskets and hammer toes, from Elizabeth and Melvin Chandler and Grandma Boice).

I am from stubbornness and hot tempers.

From “money doesn’t grow on trees” and “when God closes a door he will always open a window”.

I am from rosaries and hard scrabble living, and memories of grandma’s Indian Boarding School days.

I'm from Idaho and Irish immigrants laying transcontinental track; bread pudding and red eyed gravy.

From Katie Mulligan Boice who bought her 1905 Indian Motorcycle right off the line at 18, the same woman my grandfather never let drive, my mother who started college in her forties and then taught in one room schools.

I am from black and white pictures most long gone, berry pickers, and from pump organs now playing music in my memories.

Thanks Ruth!

{If you and/or your kids respond to this prompt and you'd like me to showcase it on my blog, I would be thrilled to do that, provided you have copyright permission to do so. If you post it on your own blog, please let me know (in comments or email, via the Contact Me tab), and I'll add your link to this post. Or you're welcome just to use comments to share a little about where you're from!} 

Photocredit: BookChook

Find more Creative Prompts in the list below!Creative Prompts for Kids
View more lists from Susan Stephenson


  1. I find poetry REALLY hard... and I want to do it better. I've learnt a little more about you today... Thank you for the prompt. And, I hope to get a first draft to you tonight... or tomorrow...

  2. Kelly, I think that's a tremendous compliment! If we can write something that lets an audience see inside us, I believe we've accomplished something worthy. And don't forget, you don't need to respond to a poem with a poem - you and the kids might decide to tell us about yourselves through art, sculpting, a puppet monologue. You get to choose when, where and how.

    Great news on the first draft!

  3. This is true... I know for Adelaide, art is how she expresses herself. She said to me the other day.

    "I love aboriginal art Mum."


    "Because I can understand it. I can see the story."

    I was really moved.

  4. What a lovely moment that must have been, Kelly. And so exciting to think of all the art ahead for her in her life, and the possibilities for her own self-expression.

    I truly believe we humans have story at our core, and that story is the way to teach kids, and touch their hearts.

  5. I just love your poem, so whimsical! Thank you for the great inspiration and shot of creativity for us to use individually and with students.

  6. I think the model could be used with grade 5 and 6 kids for sure. But I think the "idea" could be used with younger students too. I would ask kids questions like if you were a sound, what would it be? or what sounds do you remember from when you were young? And similarly with other senses. Ask them about their memories, their favourite toys and things they loved, gather lots of words and images and see what happens. It would definitely make an achievable class poem with younger kids.

  7. Prompts are great- and modelling of a poem and using scaffolding too- I love poetry and love teaching poetry and of course writing poetry- thanks for this Sue! It made me write two poems yesterday- and realise that I need to write poems in between writing prose- so invigorating.

  8. Lorraine, I am thrilled to think that post was useful to a poet like yourself! Mixing it up with our writing can keep us fresh and focused I believe. Maybe the way poetry demands we capture something's essence, search within ourselves for the most resonant way of saying something has a spillover effect on our prose.

    Hmm, must try my hand at more poetry!


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