Friday, September 17, 2010


I greet the approach of a new school year with about as much enthusiasm as I do the beginning of flu season. The only thing I enjoy about the whole back-to-school phenomenon is the chance to buy office supplies at a discount—hardly worth getting excited about. To me, fall feels more like an end than a beginning—an end to drinking coffee on the front porch with my husband in the morning while we listen to birds and feed squirrels, an end to canoe trips and camping and bike rides. I dread the beginning of each new class, I agonize over syllabuses, and I lose sleep fretting about filling class time with meaningful work.

And then?

Then I take a look at my class lists, and hey! I recognize the names of some returning students. I remember their work. I look forward to catching up, finding out what they did over the summer. I pore over textbooks, search for new approaches to the material, rediscover what I love about teaching and writing. I go to the first class and meet the rest of the students, all of them eager to learn, all of them accomplished writers with worthwhile insights to share. I look forward to learning from them, from the research, and from the whole teaching process. Lucky me—I always do!

Writing Workout

As an introductory exercise in my Creative Nonfiction class, I ask students to write their own background list poems using George Ella Lyon’s wonderful poem “Where I’m From” as a model. A check of the poet’s web site shows that I’m not alone. A whole page is dedicated to the use of the poem as a writing prompt. “The list form is simple and familiar,” she says, “and the question of where you are from reaches deep.” People all over the world have followed her example, and the web site provides suggestions for using the poem as a jumping-off point to other kinds of writing. Making my own “Where I’m From” list helped me remember details from my past that could lead to new projects for me. Give it a try!

And remember to enter our contest for classroom teachers, librarians, and homeschooling groups. Try the Writing Workout with your students, then post a comment telling us how the lesson went. Include your students’ poems if you like. See the official rules here.

Out and About

On Saturday, September 25, I'll be at Harvest Fest 2010 at Boerner Botanical Gardens in Hales Corners, Wisconsin, reading and signing Waiting Out the Storm and Flip, Float, Fly: Seeds on the Move from 1-3 p.m. If you're in the neighborhood, stop by!

JoAnn Early Macken

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