Tell your Kentucky story: ‘Where I’m From’ project deadline is March 7

Posted on February 17, 2016

In 1993, Kentucky poet George Ella Lyon wrote these words to open her now internationally acclaimed poem “Where I’m From”:

“I am from clothespins,
from Clorox and carbon-tetrachloride.
I am from the dirt under the back porch.”

Those words and the proceeding stanzas tell the story of Lyon’s Harlan County upbringing. The Kentucky Poet Laureate is encouraging residents from each of the state’s 120 counties to use her poem as a model to tell their own stories via the Kentucky Arts Council’s project titled “Where I’m From: A Poetry of Place.”

“This project is about connecting to your own voice,” Lyon said. “We need to demonstrate that art speaks from every county in Kentucky, that poetry speaks from every county in Kentucky. It’s alive and well, and needs to be nourished.”

“Where I’m From” has resonated with students at all levels, from elementary school classrooms to university lecture halls. One example is a writing teacher Lyon met at a conference in Murray.

“She taught in the Purchase Area Writing Project, and told me she had started college twice in her life and not been able to make any headway or connect with it. She said it didn’t seem like college was for her,” Lyon said. “When she tried a third time, she had a class where the first assignment was to write a ‘Where I’m From’ poem. For the first time she was able to experience connection with her place and her voice. She said that helped her turn a corner and she wouldn’t quit this time.”

People interested in participating in the “Where I’m From” project can do so by emailing their county contact.

Warren County contact is SKyPAC, email submissions to Jessica Snodgrass at  [email protected] by 12:00 PM (CST) on March 7, 2016.

If there is no contact listed for your county or you are interested in being the county contact, email Tamara Coffey, individual artist director, at tamara.coffe[email protected].

The deadline for submitting poems for the “Where I’m From” Web page is March 7. In addition to written poems, video and audio interpretations of poems will be accepted via online hosting platforms like YouTube and SoundCloud.

“We are shooting for 100 percent participation in this statewide project. For us to have the opportunity to showcase work from each Kentucky county on Kentucky Writers’ Day in 2016 would be an outstanding way to celebrate the arts council’s 50th anniversary,” said Lori Meadows, arts council executive director. “I encourage all Kentuckians to look within yourselves and your communities and find something that inspires you to express your pride of place.”

“Where I’m From” activity ideas

  • Read or listen to George Ella Lyon read the poem. You’ll notice that it is basically a list of experiences that shaped her into the person she is today. Brainstorm a list of people, places, foods, sports, music, family sayings, etc., that have made you You. Then play with the arrangement of these images till you find one you like. Poems are like jigsaw puzzles made of sound, so reading out loud will help you hear where the pieces fit.
  • Think about your favorite writer or literary character and do the kind of brainstorming for him or her described above. This may require some research. Then step into that person’s shoes and create a poem written as if you were him or her.
  • Create a poem about a member of your family or community.
  • Write a poem as if you were a tree or an animal.
  • Write a poem from the perspective of your community or favorite place.
  • Create a visual or audio version of your poem (see examples at GeorgeEllaLyon.com).
  • Create a public presentation of poems written by members of your community:
  • Host a reading and include audio, video and musical interpretations of the poems.
  • Produce a “Where I’m From” poetry slam and encourage students and young adults to participate.
  • Develop a webpage that includes community poems in written, audio and video formats.
  • Make a chapbook of written poems to distribute at the county fair, library, schools, extension office, etc.
  • Exchange poetry readings from a high school classroom to a middle school classroom and vice versa.
  • Bring together senior citizens from a senior center or nursing home and students from middle and high schools to share and discuss their poems with each other.
  • Arrange to have the local newspaper, radio station or cable access channel include poems from the community.
  • Invite the community to share and write new poems at a potluck dinner.

Warren County contact is SKyPAC, email submissions to Jessica Snodgrass at  [email protected] by 12:00 PM (CST) on March 7, 2016.

The Kentucky Arts Council, the state arts agency, fosters environments for Kentuckians to value, participate in and benefit from the arts. Kentucky Arts Council funding is provided by the Kentucky General Assembly and the National Endowment for the Arts. The arts council is celebrating 50 years of service in 2016.

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