This past weekend I spent some time connecting with a lovely group of women at a retreat. They were a welcome infusion of energy and delight after a long week cocooned in quiet solitude while my gang of men frolicked in Minnesota for spring break.
On Saturday, a few of the retreat ladies and I participated in a fun and fruitful writing exercise that I simply have to share with you. I can’t take one bit of credit for it. I first spotted this exercise on my friend Evi Wusk’s blog, and the moment I saw it, I knew it would be perfect for the retreat’s theme, which was titled “Remarkable: Your Place in God’s Story.”
The gist of the exercise, which is based on a George Ella Lyon poem, is quite simple actually. You fill in the blanks on this form, rewrite the resulting poem on another sheet of paper, adding detail and refining the lines as you go, and voila, at the end of 20 minutes or so, you have your very own “I am From” poem.
If it sounds like magic, it kind of is. Every single one of the poems read aloud by the participants in my groups were beautiful and unique, rich with detail and sweet with nostalgia. Their poems sparked an engaging conversation and offered each participant the gratification of creating a meaningful piece of writing.
I urge you to try this sweet little exercise yourself, or better yet, print out the form, hand it to your parents, grandparents or other beloved relatives in your life, and encourage them to write their own “I am From” poem. I promise it will result in a cherished keepsake.
Here’s my poem from last weekend’s workshop. Writing it made me smile.
I Am From
I am from washing cars with my dad in the driveway,
sudsy rivulets running into the sewer,
damp towels in a heap.
I am from the wafting scents of ammonia and White Owl cigars,
from reading on the screened porch during a summer thunderstorm,
from one bathroom for the four of us,
and louvered bedroom doors.
I am from swiping Golden Delicious and sprinting from the scowling farmer
(we all swore he had a gun).
From apple trees with limbs for climbing,
from nestling behind a screen of fragrant blossoms,
The Secret Garden in hand,
sleeve of Keebler chocolate-covered grahams in a hollow at my feet.
I am from Saturday night pizza at Santi’s,
and laughing loud,
from Earl and Betty, Fred and Eileen.
From boisterous storytellers and hot dogs and beans,
from “Get your head outta your duffel bag”
to “Lay me out in lavender.”
I am from kneeling behind the red velvet curtain of the confessional,
from acrid incense in my nose and Holy Water on my fingertips.
I am from East Longmeadow, Massachusetts, Ireland, England, and France.
From Irish soda bread with raisins and carraway seeds
to beef stew with soft carrots and stringy meat.
From Papa sing, “Michelle my belle” while flipping pancakes on the griddle,
from drill sergeant dad and Bisquick mom.
I am from the stack of photo albums on the lower shelf of the cherry table,
red leather covers,
crinkled cellophane peeling away from the glue.