Saturday, January 30, 2010

I Am From . . . Let Your Characters Surprise You

I'm posting this again in case you missed this INCREDIBLE piece by author Marilyn Cram Donahue. I hope when you've finished reading this post, you'll try the "I Am From..." poetic form. It will certainly get those creative thoughts flowing.

Marilyn is a seasoned author, college and writing instructor, conference speaker, and has written a whopping 31 books. Look her up on She recently signed contracts for four books! See Marilyn smile as she holds her latest contracts? (o;

I am privileged and blessed to be Marilyn's friend. We are members of the critique group I so often speak of---Wordsmiths.
Marilyn writes books, stories and articles for middle grade, YA, and adult. She claims to never go anywhere without a notebook tucked away and one of those automatic pencils that never gets dull and always has an eraser. I absolutely believe her.

My friend has graciously permitted me to present her wonderful post
on the "I Am From..." poetic form.

Here's Marilyn:

The “I Am From . . .” poetic form was developed by George Ella Lyon. It has been successfully used in schools across the country. Some of the results are wonderful, with students reaching into their everyday lives and ethnic backgrounds and coming up with single images that are worth a thousand words. It occurred to me that this would be a good exercise in the class I teach on Writing Your Memoirs. This week we looked back to our early school years and concentrated on remembering one incident that might bring to mind many images. Then we wrote “I Am From . . .” poems with those memories as starting points.

I thought of Main Street, where I grew up, and inevitably I stretched those early memories to include a less juvenile time of my life. This is the result:

I am from Main Street,
from games at twilight
and Mrs. Loring’s chow dog
with the purple tongue.

I am from back fences and hollyhocks,
from orange trees that blossomed
in the spring,
and sent their fragrance
to float on the cool night air.

I am from a front porch swing
and the sounds of
the Lone Ranger and Captain Midnight,
and the taste of cold watermelon
with black seeds that were
good for spitting.

I am from sack lunches,
and the five and dime,
and banana splits
with three kinds of ice cream
and whipped cream and a cherry on top.

I am from time passing
and starry nights
and the moon shining so bright
over Main Street
that it put sparkles in my hair
. . . or so he said.

Can you imagine a character in one of your books writing an “I Am From . . .” poem? What would you learn by letting this person tell you how he or she feels? By standing to one side and listening while your character digs deep and comes up with what might be surprising information?

Thank you, Marilyn! Let's hear from some of my blog friends. I'd like to know if your characters revealed some surprises.

2009 Marilyn Donahue


Janet, said...

this is a neat idea. I write poetry, but I am not that good at it. I think this is something I could do. I might try this with my characters in my MG books.

Nancy I. Sanders said...

What a fantastic exercise! And such a lovely post. Thank you both, Sherri and Marilyn, for being such inspirational cheerleaders for writers.

Clementine said...

I found this on Janet's blog, and she did a fabulous job with it. What a neat exercise! Thanks for sharing!

Janet, said...

Hi Sherri, I've been away for the weekend and just returned and saw your comment. If you still want to, you can put my poem on your post.

Marilyn Donahue said...

Thanks, Sherri, for this great blog entry. I hope your readers enjoy using this poetic form as much as I do. The students in the class I teach (You Can Write Your Memoirs) are finding it helpful in remembering details of the past -- which they use as springboards for their memoir writing.