Poetry Friday: Keith Urban & Where I’m From


In August I was lucky to attend a Reading Institute at Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. This week-long institute is reinvigorating and energizing, and my brain is always bursting with ideas when I leave.

The staff developers at TCRWP do a terrific job of incorporating songs, videos, and other digital texts into their lessons to both engage students and broaden their horizons. I don’t watch much TV or listen to popular music on a regular basis, so I’m often out of the loop on what kids are watching and listening to. But after leaving New York, I was inspired to change the station on my way to work and listen to a country music radio station. Keith Urban’s new song, “John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16” (written by Shane McAnally, Ross Copperman, and Josh Osborne) was playing. I was drawn in by the melody right away, and the lyrics really intrigued me.

I’m a 45 spinning on an old Victrola
I’m a two strike swinger, I’m a Pepsi cola
I’m a blue jean quarterback saying “I love you” to the prom queen in a Chevy…

Read the rest of the lyrics here.

Then my teacher brain kicked in and all sorts of possibilities for sharing this song with older students started swirling in my brain. The song evokes a bygone era and offers endless opportunities for building knowledge about the culture of mid-twentieth century America.

I was also reminded of George Ella Lyon’s poem, “Where I’m From.” Popular in writing workshops as a mentor poem, many teachers begin the school year with this poem as a way to learn about their students and build community. Pairing Urban’s rendition of “John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16” with Lyon’s poem is a sure way to inspire young poets to pen their own poetic memoir.

“Where I’m From”
by George Ella Lyon

I am from clothespins,
from Clorox and carbon-tetrachloride.
I am from the dirt under the back porch.
(Black, glistening,
it tasted like beets.)
I am from the forsythia bush
the Dutch elm
whose long-gone limbs I remember
as if they were my own.

Read the rest of the poem here.

Be sure to visit Robyn Hood Black at Life on the Deckle Edge for the Poetry Friday Round Up.

10 thoughts on “Poetry Friday: Keith Urban & Where I’m From

  1. Nice match, Catherine! I was chuckling when I read Keith Urban in your tweet about your post because I was hooked. I was really wondering where you were going! (John Deere factories in several of our towns in Iowa and of course that’s the only color of tractor that is acceptable – John Deere green!)

    What a great way to build community for your students! THANKS!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. As I mentioned in the Round up, Catherine, I think this is pretty brilliant! GREAT post. (I first heard Keith urban play this on some big TV thing, and I couldn’t quite make out what the first “John” was as he sang it – figured it out by context and then confirmed it was “Cougar” – I’m of that era!)


  3. What a perfect ending to that poem;

    ‘I am from those moments–
    snapped before I budded —
    leaf-fall from the family tree.’

    You’re right, Catherine – the two work beautifully together!


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