The Poetry of Everyday Life and Zeitlin’s Creative Writing Prompts

From the cover of The Poetry of Everyday Life. Photo by Martha Cooper.

Place Moments

“The places we care about are baskets that hold the perishable fruits of memory and experience. Take a notebook out to the places that you love, those places that are lush with low-hanging fruit. The moments when you encounter them mark the times when the experience is ripe for you. Savor them.” — Steve Zeitlin

Have you done it? Have you gone back to those places you once held close? Have you explored new places?

The Poetry of Everyday Life: Storytelling and the Art of Awareness, by Steve Zeitlin, defines our own lives — all of our moments, no matter how small or big—as collections of beautiful poems. Poetry can exist in breathing: the simplest thing you can do as a human being. The writing exercise mentioned above is just one example of how Zeitlin, a folklorist who devotes his time to the beauty of human communication, uses his latest project to help educators, writers, and others discover the surrounding beauty in their everyday lives. He is also the founding director of City Lore, an organization that believes in the power of grassroots voices as they tell their stories of cultural heritage.

“Place moments” can build the framework for thinking creatively and living a more fulfilled life, even for those who don’t identify as writers.

As an aspiring novelist, it is crucial for me to be aware of the small details in life, which may, at the time, not appear as poetic as Zeitlin lets on. These details help me write about life in a way that’s more accessible, more real to readers. “Place moments,” as he prompted his students years ago and as he prompts us now, define those particular, unique feelings we get in a specific place and time. They can build the framework for thinking creatively and living a more fulfilled life, even for those who don’t identify as writers.

Some of the staff at the Press are revisiting our own “place moments,” enamored by how many of these moments have, indeed, changed us in some small way. Starting with mine, we’ll be sharing some of our #PlaceMoments on Twitter.

I Am From . . .

I am from ducking bullets by the bedroom window with Mom in 1974 where a tree grows in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.
I am from controlling the flow of fire hydrant water through a can of Chef Boyardee while dreaming of swimming in a real pool one day. —Alicia Vasquez, student at Cooper Union

In addition to his discussion of the power of place moments, Zeitlin also describes a writing exercise that helped him to memorize his students’ names while teaching at Cooper Union. Though writers have the freedom to creatively express themselves in this exercise, these “list poems” all have one thing in common: each sentence of the poem starts with “I am from . . .” The information students revealed in these poems not only helped Zeitlin remember their names, but also prompted them to reflect on their own upbringing and how past experiences impact personal growth and identity.

“‘I am from . . .’ poems are ur-poems: everyone has one in them, and if you don’t write yours down, it remains locked into pure potentiality,” Zeitlin explains.

We’ll be sharing some of our favorite “I am from . . .” poems on our Instagram account using #IAmFrom. Below is an example by Holly Habeck, another intern at the Press:

Share your story

Want to share a piece of your story with us? Hashtag your “I am from . . .” poem on Instagram with #IAmFrom, and you may see it regrammed on our account! On Twitter, hashtag your tweet with #PlaceMoment. Tag us in your photo and we may retweet it!

In the next few weeks we’ll have more information about a social campaign we’re dreaming up to donate copies of The Poetry of Everyday Life to an educational or community group, plus one lucky individual on Instagram. Check our social feeds for more information.


Alexis (Lexie) Farabaugh is an intern at Cornell University Press who loves to photosynthesize in the spring. Follow her on Twitter @lexievirginia

80140100767700lThe Poetry of Everyday Life: Storytelling and the Art of Awareness
By Steve Zeitlin
$26.00 hardcover

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The Poetry of Everyday Life and Zeitlin’s Creative Writing Prompts