In ‘Where I’m From’ Poonai uses the structure created by George Ella Lyon to speak about themes of identity, family, and youth. The poem uses memories, and the colours associated with memories, to paint a picture of Poonai’s most important childhood experiences and how they made her into the adult she became.
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Summary of Where I’m From
The poem takes the reader through a series of images that set out a larger picture of Poonai’s childhood and what made her who she was when she wrote this poem. She depicts herself as originating from images based on colour. Such as that representing her mother’s laugh, her nightmares, her grandmother’s coffin, and the flowers in her garden. She is all these things, everything she didn’t mention, and everything that has yet to happen to her.
You can read the full poem here.
Structure of Where I’m From
‘Where I’m From’ by Melanie Poonai is a nineteen-line poem that is contained within one stanza of text. The lines do not follow a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern, but, they are structured through the use of several poetic techniques, such as repetition and anaphora, which will be discussed in the next section.
This poem was written using the format of another poem, ‘Where I’m From’ by George Ella Lyon. Lyon, a poet, musician and writer from the southern United States depicts her youth and what made her who she was when she wrote the poem in her original three-stanza composition. Since its publication, a variety of writers, non-writers, and children in classroom settings, have taken up the verse form and used to understand their lives better.
Poetic Techniques in Where I’m From
Poonai uses several poetic techniques in ‘Where I’m From’. These include but are not limited to anaphora, enjambment, allusion, and alliteration. The first, anaphora, is the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of multiple lines, usually in succession. This technique is often used to create emphasis. A list of phrases, items, or actions may be created through its implementation.
In the case of ‘Where I’m From’ Poonai uses the phrase “I am from…” on a very frequent basis, even more than Lyon did in her original version. It appears at the beginning of nine of the nineteen lines. Of the other ten lines, all but two start with “From the…”
Alliteration occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound. For example, “favourite football” in line three and “filled” and “flowers” in lines seven and eight. Enjambment is another important technique. It occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. Enjambment forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. The best example is the transition between lines seven and eight.
Due to the fact that this poem is very personal in nature, as are all the “Where I’m From” poems, Poonai makes several allusions that are unclear to an outside reader. An allusion is an expression that’s meant to call something specific to mind without directly stating it. Someone who is unfamiliar with her life will not fully understand the significance of some of the images.
Analysis of Where I’m From
I am from a life filled with colour,
From the chocolate brown that is my skin.
I am from the crisp new white pages of a book,
From the miserable grey of the street I live on.
In the first lines of ‘Where I’m From’ the speaker begins by making her first “I am from…” statement. She declares that she is from a life “filled with colour”. Colour is one of the primary repeating images in ‘Where I’m From’. In this line, she is speaking about the colour of her skin, the “chocolate brown”. She goes on to add another, the “sunshine yellow of [her] mother’s laugh”. This image is an example of synesthesia in writing. It occurs when one object, action, person, or sight appeals to one more than sense. In this case, the laugh has a colour.
The next colours the speaker presents the reader are the colours of her bother’s favourite shirt. They, along with the previous two colours, and the “white pages of a book” are juxtaposed against the “grey of the street” she lived on. Her internal life and the personal life she shared with her family were colourful, but they were placed within a dreary and underwhelming setting.
I am from green, pink and yellow; My garden in summer filled
I am from the dark oak of my grandmother’s coffin,
From the golden “Aum” pendant around my neck..
The next lines supply the reader with lighter and more joyous colours. There are those of her garden, which she seems proud of. They represent happiness, peace with nature, and peace with oneself. The next is much darker the “black of the nightmares” that haunted her. This alludes to something deeper, untouched by the rest of the poem.
The following images are those of a sadly deceased cat, the “ever-short school tie” and the darkness of her grandmother’s coffin. Happiness mixes with sadness and dark with light, together they form this poet’s youth. She also mentions her “Aum” pendant. This is the “Om” symbol that is common in Indian religions. It signifies the essence of reality and consciousness.
I am from every pink scar etched into my body,
From the red, orange and brown of a hot curry.
I am from all that has happened,
And all that will be.
The last few lines of the poem bring in the speaker’s physical body, the food she lived on as a child, and the “twins” that she loved. The last image is that of the “hospital ward”. She does not go into detail about what the hospital has to do with her youth. It could connect back to the “twins” in the sixteenth line.
The poem concludes with an allusion to the past and the future. She is all the things she mentioned, everything she didn’t, and everything that hasn’t happened to her yet.