Writing "I am" poems

/ 21 January 2023

One of the exercises I’ve used in a variety of settings — and which we are using this year in a Wabash symposium — comes from the work of George Ella Lyon. The idea is to fill in words to a series of prompts that begin “I am from…”

You can find Lyon’s explanation and a bunch of examples at that website, but Alex just suggested I post my own here. I was surprised by how much of what sprang to mind for me came from my earlier years, not so much later on.

  • I am from the sound of my mother giving piano lessons in our front room as I try to keep my baby sisters quiet.
  • I am from the touch of tears kept bottled up inside as I stay silent in the shame of using food stamps.
  • I am from the touch of hands seeking to stretch and support the muscles contorted by my son’s cerebral palsy.
  • I am from the smell and no smell of frozen nostrils in 20 degrees below zero weather.
  • I am from the smell of books: new books, old books, books that are the wallpaper of my home and office.
  • I am from the smell of fresh-baked bread: crusty bread, whole grain bread, Swedish tea ring, maple walnut sticky buns.
  • I am from the taste of peanut butter rice Krispie bars, Campbell’s mushroom soup chicken and rice casserole, pineapple cream cheese green jello.
  • I am from the taste of fresh baked naan, my husband’s curried chicken, my mother-in-love’s schnitzel.
  • I am from the values of small town Oshkosh, Wisconsin: stoicism, hard work, ignorant racism, complicated faith, joy-filled summer roller-skating.
  • I am from the sight of Lake Michigan, rivaling my first sight of the ocean in Massachusetts.
  • I am from the music of Sweet Honey in the Rock, Bruce Springsteen, Eldbjorg Hemsing, and Cloud Cult.
  • I am from the ideas of Lois McMaster Bujold, Audre Lorde, Louise Penney, Parker Palmer, and Debra Harkness.
  • I am from places of elite education which drew me beyond my home with deep resources for learning, and at one and the same time taught multiple varieties of supremacy; places which tolerate radical ideas as a way to co-opt them, and offer empty status as a way to undercut them.
  • I am from the community of St. Paul, Minnesota where my children have grown up and my vocation has taken me to Luther Seminary.
  • I am from the family of Jesus, broken and shared, giving and forgiving, fraught with oppression and singing with hope.