Spelling Home

Many of the Fellows get to participate in the Poetry in Place workshop, where young students interact with different subjects in history and in their personal lives and produce poetry that interprets those experiences. Continue reading as Fellow Olivia McCullum reflects on this time through her own poem. 


Spelling Home

We sit at high, round wooden tables

Surrounded by books on physics, paleontology, and physiology

Although some of us glance at them, distracted

Their subjects are not what we came for.

I sit with three eighth graders—Joseph, Asia, and Taniya

Who piece together word by word, what home means for them.

As I watch them write poetry, I sense a deep pride in them

For their city, for their homes

Each thing they remember a part of their art

A part of their homes, a facet of themselves.

They write as though they have been silent all their lives,

And as the first words begin to tumble out, so do all the rest

Rushing, like the words will never run out.

Asia has three pages, Taniya is already on her second poem, and Joseph’s pen has run out, he wrote so much.

I offer him mine. He takes it.

I won’t need it, after all—poetry is painful for me

Its conception, each word choice, every subtle melody that can or cannot be chosen.

I’ll throw my poems away later

But I hope they keep theirs

Tacked hastily onto walls

Or stuffed in stiff plastic binders

To be pulled out, reworded, ideas rehashed, crumpled

Then, perhaps, unfolded,


They ask me for spelling tips:

“Pilon” “Misshapen” “Business”

I wince—they trust the wrong woman;

When I was in eighth grade

I lost a spelling bee


Maybe it was then that I stopped writing poems—

When I experienced the sudden humility

And realized I did not know words so well as I thought.

I ask them what they wrote about.

Taniya and Joseph exchange glances with each other, but Asia looks at me straight:

“Diversity,” she says, “Diversity in Harrisburg.”

Her words encourage Joseph and Taniya, and soon they all speak at once

“Racism—I dream of a world where racism is gone”

“My father—I never met him.”

“My house. I have five brothers.”

“The clown from It. Sometimes, I think he lives here.”

“Vibrancy and beauty.”

“Of what?”



And though I am still very young,

I feel old in their presence, in their enthusiasm.

I yearn to tell them—home is not where you’re from

Or what you do, or even where you go.

It is the place where you can write and others read it

Where you can speak and others will listen

Where you can love and receive love in return

Where the words you encounter, envision, employ

Are as welcome as you are.


*For the sake of confidentiality, the names of the students have been changed.


Olivia McCullum is a junior double major in English and international business. She is the chapter president of Delta Mu Delta, the business honor’s society, as well as being the assistant head tutor at the Messiah College Writing Center. Olivia loves reading, sailing, and hiking, and has an especially deep affinity for 17th century playwrights and poets.




Above image by Josh Pesavento, used with permission under a Creative Commons License.


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