I wrote a poetry book once that I titled, Courage to Follow. The cover, which is a file folder I carefully tore in half and punched three holes in it so I could bind my poems together with yarn, boasts a quote from Erica Jong: “Everyone has talent. What is rare is the courage to follow the talent to the dark place where it leads.” I am not suggesting that talent leads to bad things, rather, that following what tugs at us, what is asking us to bring forth, is often mysterious, and yes, dark. I was 28, living in Washington DC, and teaching middle school English when I wrote my DIY chapbook. I wanted that courage, and I wanted to pass that courage on to my students, but I wasn’t sure where to get it.
What better way than to look for it in poetry? So that’s what we did. We read and interacted with Emily Dickinson, and Langston Hughes, we messed around with haiku and iambic pentameter. We read Out of the Dust, Love That Dog, Make Lemonade, and True Believer delighted that an entire story could be told in poetry.
One of the poems that prompted us to follow our talent was George Ella Lyons’ Where I’m From poem. In it, she uses metaphor to show us how song and flowers and things like the “fudge and eyeglasses” shape up into who we are as much as the people we came from do.
Here are a couple “Where I’m From” poems written by used-to=be 14 year-olds:
I am from the park with a hill
that I was afraid to ride my bike down
I am from the puddle I threw rocks in
to watch the ripples
in the water I am from, “Italians invented this,”
and “prove them wrong, you’re an Italian.”
I am from the books of the Bible
I get candy for saying I am from the picnics in the yard
the red blanket
I am from missing my sister and hardly
seeing my brother
but knowing I’m only a car ride away.
I am from bags of gold fish and cheese sticks
fresh cut grass in the summer
I am from where the bumble bees crowd
the rope swing
from the hot lake water
from homemade lemonade
I am from where it rains heavily
all for me to to make long, wet rain dances
out in the street
Here is mine:
I am from Oak Park, Illinois
I lived on a street called Gunderson
where I could walk around the corner
and see the Sears Tower
standing tall in the distance.
I knew Spring was on its way
when I could smell Gary, Indiana.
The city’s distinct smell of old French fries
gliding toward Chicago
alerted me that soon
I’d be wearing shorts and flips flops.
My friends and I would stop
by the Farrara Pan Candy factory
as soon as we could smell
what candy was being made that day.
Smells of cinnamon in the air
stung my nose,
and I could almost taste the Red Hots.
The best days/were the days when the factory
was making jelly beans.
For a quarter
the ladies at the factory
would hand us brown lunch bags
filled with freshly made jelly beans
the size of nickels.
I always ate the red ones first.
Try It: Courage You’re From
Where are you from that has given you courage? Or, what courage are you from? Put it in a poem.
Featured photo by Bureau of Land Mangement Creative Commons, via Unsplash. Post by Callie Feyen.