RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
I'm Rachel Martin, and this is Poets In Chairs Sipping Tea. I just invented that.
KWAME ALEXANDER: And I'm Kwame Alexander, and I like that title...
MARTIN: You do?
ALEXANDER: ...But, you know, we kind of need a proper name for our segment, something literary and cool.
MARTIN: Literary cool with a little - maybe a little British bent to it. Maybe not sitting in chairs sipping tea but something, right? Because...
ALEXANDER: Right. Right.
MARTIN: ...You're in London for a little while, roaming, writing. How's it going over there?
ALEXANDER: Rachel, the food is delicious. The theater is electrifying. The buses and the tube are crazy convenient. My job is sweet. My colleagues are fascinating. But I haven't found a barber yet.
MARTIN: I mean, it's radio, so people don't necessarily know this, but you don't have a lot of hair, we should just say.
ALEXANDER: Shape up and shave, Rachel. It takes a lot of work to look fly for radio. But in the meantime, in between time, when we would last together...
ALEXANDER: ...We asked listeners to write a "Where I'm From" poem.
MARTIN: Right. So you were supposed to do this "Where I'm From," drawing on all five senses, sharing your own remembrances and using those memories of the people and places you came from to craft a poem.
ALEXANDER: We had close to 1,400 submissions. How cool is that?
MARTIN: Super cool. I'm so glad so many people were inspired by this. You then took all of those works and you compiled them into another MORNING EDITION community poem. And I can't wait to hear it.
ALEXANDER: I can't wait to share it. It's pretty magnificent.
MARTIN: All right. So before we do so, before we unveil the masterpiece, I've got a little surprise for you about how this all unfolded. You want to hear it?
ALEXANDER: What? I love surprises.
MARTIN: I know you do.
ALEXANDER: OK. I'm sitting down.
MARTIN: Remember the excerpt that we shared as an example for our listeners?
ALEXANDER: Yep. We shared the original, the first ever "Where I'm From" poem, which was written by Appalachian poet George Ella Lyon.
MARTIN: Right. OK. So check this out. Listen to the phone message we got.
GEORGE ELLA LYON: This is George Ella Lyon. I was amazed and delighted to hear you read part of "Where I'm From" on MORNING EDITION. I love that you invited listeners to write their own poems and send them in. My poem, written in 1993, was inspired by a poem of Jo Carson's. Her poem took off from something she heard somebody say. So "Where I'm From" has been a pass-it-on phenomenon from the get-go. Here's to the power of poetry and place and to the voices in all of us that long to be heard.
ALEXANDER: My mind is officially blown. My writerly world is rocked.
MARTIN: Isn't that amazing? It was very thoughtful. It was so cool that she took the time to call in like that. She even recited a poem, which is on the NPR website. Everyone should go check it out.
ALEXANDER: George Ella Lyon is listening to us, Rachel. I mean, now I hope this community poem I've culled together is good, that it honors her brilliance.
MARTIN: I'm sure it will. But let's read it. Are you ready?
ALEXANDER: I am.
MARTIN: OK. This is how it starts. (Reading) I am from travelers and adventure, from be seen, not heard, from ritual and plainsong, from England and exile, from mint sauce and lamb.
ALEXANDER: (Reading) I am from casseroles and canned tuna, Kennedys and Saturday morning cartoons. I am from Tang in a Daffy Duck glass, from wall phones with mangled cords stretched during private calls in a room too far. I come from popcorn ceilings, dining rooms of glossy mahogany.
MARTIN: (Reading) I am from bed sheets draped over our dining room chairs, from the trees littering the backyard, the sweet taste of mulberry staining my fingers red. I'm from big hats under rainbow umbrellas, buckets of wet sand and unstable castles. I'm from orange and vanilla custard with a pizza slice the size of your chest, from hot July days and cool summer nights. I'm from Sunday night pizza and Monday Night Football.
ALEXANDER: (Reading) I am from marbles, from empanadas cooking on the street. I am from orchids and mango trees. I am from la torta tres leches and ruana. I am from happy and serious, from hard work and sweat.
MARTIN: (Reading) I am from grit, respect and discipline, from big family reunions and endless laughs. I'm from houses never locked, from the projects in Brooklyn and dominoes in the park. I am from salsa and the car horns blaring.
ALEXANDER: (Reading) I am from diners and malls and accents that put an aw in coffee, from silky lingerie and sweat socks, bruised knuckles and scars I gave myself from longing to be someone somewhere else. I am from a mother who was still a girl whose beauty kept her shy. I am from dirt and fences, from strength and toughness.
MARTIN: (Reading) I am from ashes flicked into the tray, the despair of divorce, bonds gone, unappreciated, eviction and being thrown away, running and begging to stay. I am from a little girl who just needed a break.
ALEXANDER: (Reading) I am from a time when my mother went to the hospital and never came back, when my toys were in a box by the curb as we drove away. I am from singing in the darkness of night, putting myself to sleep with the sound of my own voice.
MARTIN: (Reading) I am from playing backyard baseball with tennis balls, Wiffle balls, even roundish gourds, from weekend sleepovers, from orange push-ups, from fallen leaves kicked up in swirls on walks to school, from early morning radio announcements of a snow day - no school.
ALEXANDER: (Reading) I am from the South and the North, from immigrant grandparents and Civil War soldiers. I am from the red dirt clay of Virginia, from the sounds of the fiddle to the beauty of a choir, from the jig and the reel to the cloggers and the dancers, from collard greens and fat back, chitterlings and white bread. I'm from hymns learned on Sundays, hypocrisy displayed on Mondays.
MARTIN: (Reading) I am from Tom Petty and baby oil in the hot sun, rye bread and salami. I am from black cows, tacos, bicycles and the gentle lure of crickets.
ALEXANDER: (Reading) I am from James Brown and Santana, from groovin' on a Sunday afternoon and "Crystal Blue Persuasion."
MARTIN: (Reading) I am from endless steps, from California and Texas and Durango, Colo., from unknown ancestors of the ancient Southwest, cliff-dwellers and puebloans. I am from the earth.
ALEXANDER: (Reading) From cityscapes and sleepy suburbs, from cicada clicks and fireflies sparks, from the call of books and breathing through struggles. I am from you.
MARTIN: (Reading) And you are from me. We are love.
ALEXANDER: (Reading) We are home. We are from this day forward.
MARTIN: That was a good one, my friend. That was a good one.
ALEXANDER: It was. It was beautiful.
MARTIN: Yeah. It always makes you feel better about the - I don't know. I'm speaking for myself, but it makes me feel better about what's to come when you're grounded in what happened and where you came from.
ALEXANDER: Absolutely. Our listeners have just reminded us that remembering those things that matter, they help us move forward.
MARTIN: OK. So we're back where we started. We need a name for our segment.
MARTIN: Poets Sipping Tea - Rachel, Kwame. I don't know.
ALEXANDER: We can't just call it The Rachel And Kwame Show?
MARTIN: I don't know. Maybe. This is where we ask for your help again. We'd love your suggestions. So if you have some inspiration as to what we should call our regular gatherings here of poetry and words, send us your suggestions.
ALEXANDER: Yes. Send it write away - W-R-I-T-E. See what I did there?
MARTIN: Oh, you're so clever. Kwame Alexander, he's a regular contributor to MORNING EDITION and the inaugural innovator in residence at the American School in London. I love saying that. It makes it so fancy.
ALEXANDER: I love hearing it.
MARTIN: Good luck finding that barber.
ALEXANDER: Thank you. Cheers.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHRISTIAN SCOTT ATUNDE ADJUAH FEAT. ELENA PINDERHUGHES' "COMPLETELY")
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