What is the theme of "Where I'm From" by George Ella Lyon?
"Where I'm From," as the title suggests, is a poem about all of the complex details that make up a person's origins and individual identity. The "From" is not just a physical place but a conglomeration of memories, ancestry, mannerisms, and literal spaces. Each stanza mixes imagery from these categories to suggest that the elements of a person's identity are endlessly multifaceted.
Lyon refers to being "from" items that are not necessarily locations, making some of the language of the poem figurative. For example, the speaker begins by saying she is "from clothespins" (line 1); obviously a person cannot literally come from a clothespin, but the clothespin represents the home the speaker grew up in and tells us something about the everyday life of that place. There are references to parts of the landscape, like the "dirt" and the "forsythia bush," but the speaker's identity is drawn from a more complicated fabric than just the physical realm.
In the second stanza, the speaker continues this trend. She mentions "fudge and eyeglasses," while in the next line referencing "Imogene and Alafair," the names of people. The references to "fudge and eyeglasses" are, of course, more figurative. Fudge may refer to a special recipe made in her family, and eyeglasses may have been worn by one or more relatives. Here, Lyon is able to acknowledge that she is who she is because of not only where she grew up but also who was there and what they valued and what characterized them.
In the final stanza, the speaker moves on to a more explicit consideration of memories and how they contribute to the construction of a self. The stanza begins like the others, with mentions of physical places and then the more figurative/symbolic "fried corn and coffee." After that, however, the speaker mentions specific relatives and memories associated with them. Finally, the poem concludes with the speaker musing on a box of photos, reflecting on how she is "from those moments." The memories and experiences, just like the features of her home and her family and her physical town, built her sense of self.
Lyon’s popular poem, “Where I’m From,” is about looking back on her life and remembering her origins. Lyon writes about her family, her culture, and her environment in search of her identity. It’s a poem of self-awareness where she realizes all the things throughout her life that define her. Lyon’s poem has an overall theme about her family tree and where she comes from. She describes her Kentucky roots and being from the Artemis and Billie branch of the family tree. She reminisces about the large elm tree she sees in her yard, about the smells of “strong coffee,” about the sounds of singing (“He restoreth my soul” in church), and about the dirt that tastes like “beets.” At the end of the poem while going through a box of old photographs, Lyon realizes that she is one leaf on the family tree.
All of these memories are puzzle pieces that come together to create a picture of Lyon’s life. Lyon becomes self-actualized and understands the meaning of her life because of all the people, places, and things that make her unique.
Roughly 2.7 million people are from Chicago, but not all of them are from the Wrigley Field bleachers, a cloud of Stony Island bus exhaust, and their aunt Janine's tamales.
It's that same sentiment that lies at the heart of George Ella Lyon's poem "Where I'm From." Where you're from isn't the town or state you live in; it's all the places, people, things, and ideas to whom, and with whom, you belong.
Lyon is from Kentucky, and "Where I'm From" is a response to a poem by her friend and fellow poet Jo Carson. Carson's poem begins like this:
I want to know when you get to be from a place.
Lyon took that opener as a challenge and made her own list of things that she's from. Then she edited them into a poem. The theme of the finished poem isn't so much the idea of "belonging" as it is a recognition of the things that make you who you are—the stuff you carry with you always, no matter where you go.