Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Where Malik's From

Not so long ago I told you about a poetry exercise called Where I'm From.   I found it in Nancie Atwell's book Naming the World: A Year of Poems and Lessons.   I have to tell you that it is my favorite writing activity that I have ever done with my students...ever.  

Why?   The students dug deep.   They thought about themselves.   They talked to their families.   They revised.   They edited.   Many even allowed me to make copies of their poems to put in a binder to share with classmates and teachers.   Some were asked to publish their work in the school literary magazine.   I wanted to publish one here for you to enjoy as well.

A big part of what I like about Atwell's book is the fact that she has published student samples alongside the bona-fide, gen-u-ine poem that inspired the lesson.   The poem I chose to share with you, with his mother's permission, is written by a young man who has a natural ear for language.  At the same time, he would agree with Thomas Mann's statement, "A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people."  

Malik is about the craft.   His poem was a process.   Believe it.   I was there.   His first draft was flat but intriguing.   I know when he's "in the zone."   But I hadn't seen it yet with this activity.   It took having the poem knocking around in his brain for a day for the pieces to start falling into the right places.   He opened with a general line about slavery and moved quickly to the next subject.   I had a feeling that there was more there, but he wasn't able to come up with it until he had a chance to talk with family.   He did.   The poem really opened up after that.   See what you think.

“where i’m from”

i’m from slaves working in the hot fields of gloucester
to whites only and piles of found jewelry.
i’m from farming crops and hard work to
“when will we be free from this misery?”
i’m from families being torn apart
to  wondering if relatives will be found,
dead or alive.

i’m from newport news to a family of 5
i’m from "that’s dope" and billy jean,
to the greatest love of all.
i’m from the the jeffersons and moving to the eastside,
to finally getting a piece of the pie.
i’m from the sweet taste of butterfingers
to playing with barbies and kens.
i’m from the witches and mysteries
to playing softball in the warm dusty summer of ’90.
i’m from stacks of poems and books,
to barking dogs and purple soda.
i’m from a ripping eye and pain,
to doctors working to fix it.

i’m from a lost boy living in hawaii
to a military woman with no children.
i’m from that boy found and loved
to that woman who’s now a mom.
i’m from a calm, peaceful place
to the concrete jungle of new york.
i’m from winters spent in maine
to the sunny city of los angeles.
i’m from the flow and rhyme of a
lonely soul,
to slick rick reading
fairy tale.


  1. I love it! I think I know this young man, and I adore him too!

  2. know this writer for sure. I let Malik know that you enjoyed his poem. Thanks for the feedback.