Thursday, September 30, 2010

October, 2010, Poetry Challenge

In 1999, George Ella Lyon published a book entitled,Where I'm From (Writers' & Young Writers' Series #2) (Writers & Young Writers Series, #2). On her Website (see, Lyon says she wrote her poem which begins, “I am from clothespins,” after being inspired by Stories I Ain't Told Nobody Yet: Selections from the People Pieces by Jo Carson. The “prompt” has been picked up by numerous teachers and writing instructors, including those at the Neighborhood Writing Alliance (NWA) in Chicago, Illinois.

According to Carrie Spitler, publisher of the NWA’s literary journal, Journal of Ordinary Thought, the NWA invested six months on the theme of “where I am from.” As a result, they selected “Whistle Talk: JOT Writes on Where I’m From” as the theme of the Winter 2010 issue of JOT. The sample poems for the October Poetry Challenge come from that issue. As Ronne Hartfield wrote in the introduction to the issue, “the simple-seeming question ‘Where are you from?’ is, of course, not so simple after all.” I found it difficult to select only two poems from the issue to share, because so many of them were powerful.

I’m From Arkansas

I am from the land of hot sun, using lard and Vaseline to grease my ashy arms, legs, and feet.

I am from a shotgun house covered with a tin roof, newspapered walls, linoleum flooring, sheltering me from the rain and cold.

I am from hot fields of cotton, with rows of thorny white bulbs neatly planted for picking.

I am from the banks of the mighty Mississippi River watching fisherman who provided the “catch of the day” for the hungry.

I am from the “Blue Hole,” where sinners dressed in white were baptized in the name of the Lord.

I am from the ones who loved me and called me their “Sugar Baby” and taught me to say “TaTa.”

I am from the Baptist church, where Sunday preaching, Gospel singing, and shouting saved you from the Devil.

I am from Helana, Arkansas, where fried chicken, neck bones, collard greens, chitterlins, sweet potatoes, cha cha, corn bread, and biscuits were a must for breakfast, supper, or dinner.

I am from Sammie, who found and cultivated plants that produced herbal medicine to heal the sick.

I am from Fred and Ora, who watched me grow and play games such as “Ring Around the Roses,” and “Aunt Dinah Is Dead, and “Hide and Seek.”

I am from ancestors who took pictures dressed in their finest clothes, looking into the camera without a smile, silenced to the world of their “deferred dreams.”

I am that girl from the uplifting light of above goodness…where Alpha and Omega reside…No beginning, no end…

I Am.

~ Charlene K. Smith

Journal of Ordinary Thought (Winter 2010), page 45. © 2010.

I Am Their Story

I am from the descendants of slaves
That lineage that survived the horrific passage across the Atlantic
To the shores of these Americas. . .
I am the griot that will tell the tales
Of the 1,000 lashes that sliced their skins
Burned their flesh
As they labored from sunrise to sunset
I am from blood spilled upon urban streets as they walked peacefully
For justice
In unjust times
I am the daughter of a dying breed of men
That cherished and celebrated their women
With honor and respect
Protected her from the chaos of the world
Nourished her spirit
And relinquished in the sacredness of her temple
I am Daddy’s girl
And I wear that crown with honor
For my father breathed and embodied the definition of being
a Black man
And the foundation he built
The standards that he provided
Others have failed to measure up to
He exhibited a quiet strength
That I will forever admire
Though his physical presence is not here
His external essence
Continues to flow through me
He exhibited a quiet strength
That did not waver
During battles with my mother
She taught me the power of words
For she can lace words together that could penetrate the strongest
Armor of man
He stood during her season of verbal warfare
And silent
And silent
And strong
Never leaving his imprints upon the side of her face
Nor bruising the flesh of her skin
She taught me that words can wound
But her love for my father was stronger than her sporadic
temper tantrums
And she adored him
Allowed him to reign as king
I am from a union
That honored their vows, only through death they parted
A love that spanned 40 years
A love that withstood the trials, tribulations, and temptations
that life hurled in their path.
I am from this picture of family
That I have tried to recreate with my daughter
Absent her father
But loving her just as strongly
With the strength of my father’s determination
And the fire of my mother’s presence
I am their history
I am their story

~ Felicia Madlock
Journal of Ordinary Thought (Winter 2010), pages 28-29. © 2010.

The October Poetry Challenge:

For October, write your response to the question, “Where are you from?” (or the closely-related question, “Who are you?”). Are you, like George Ella Lyon, are “from Clorox and carbon-tetrachloride”? Are you, like Felicia Madlock, “the daughter of a dying breed of men”? Or like Charlene K. Smith, are you “from a shotgun house” and “hot fields of cotton”? Your story is unique, one only you can tell. Your title does not have to begin with “I’m from. . . .” or “I am. . . .” but the poem has to be a response to one of the two questions.

Poems published in books or on the Internet are not eligible. If you poem has been published in a periodical, please include publication data.

How to Submit Your Poem:

Send your poem to wildamorris [at] ameritech [dot] net (substitute the @ sign for “at” and a . for [dot], and don’t leave any spaces). Or you can access my Facebook page and send the poem in a message. Be sure provide your e-mail address. Submission of a poem gives permission for the poem to be posted on the blog, if it is a winner. The deadline is October 15. Winning poem or poems will be published on this blog.

Dorn Septet Challenge:

The Dorn Septet Challenge is still open because there has not been a winner. The septet must reflect all the qualities of a dorn septet as described in the June Challenge, and must have a minimum of three stanzas. To find the June Challenge, scroll down and look for Blog Archive on the right-hand side of the page. Click on June.

© 2010 Wilda Morris