Guide to “Within”

for ESL/ELL instructors

About This Guide

This guide features the poem “Within” by Louise K. Waakaa’igan, accompanied by interdisciplinary resources and activities designed to help ESL/ELL/TESOL instructors facilitate a heart-to-heart connection between their students, a guest poet, and the words of a Minnesota-based Indigenous (Native American) poet, by collaborating in the creation of a communal poem.

by Louise K. Waakaa’igan


I am woman gray

within shadows

losing my sense of normalcy

through the monotony that freezes my

already cold spine —

my hands never warm.

Am I not created for more?

The crude cement cell block erases the moon.

my dreams sense no guidance

my tears no destination

my scars — still wound.

When will my ancestral guide return?

I carve my sternum, carve

the holiness out, ceasing my breath,

the genesis of my fear.

I am not home.

Where is my bimaadiziwin?

I am a foreigner

in my own land, a ghostless shadow begging

to be remembered for more

than solitude.

Where are my well-worn moccassins

To guide me home?

Who will carry this desolation

When these migizi wings are too dirty

from thundering storms?


I am within

my kaleidoscope breaking and failing

my heartbeat.


Ni mama

I miss your home.


I still smell your morning breath.




Ojibwe Translations

bimaadiziwingood way of life


Ni mamamy mother

Ningozismy son


“Within” appears in This Is Where ©2020 by Louise K. Waakaa'igan. Willow Books, a division of Aquarius Press. 

 Activities and Resources

The following activities and resource guides are designed to help your students experience connection with an Indigenous (Native American) poet and her poem, and then to collaborate in the creation of a communal poem with the help of a guest poet. It is important that your students understand there is no right or wrong way to experience or collaborate. We have intentionally avoided the words “lesson plan,” and suggest that during this process (lasting approximately 1 hour), you think of yourself less as an instructor and more as the facilitator of human connection.


  1. Invite: Consult the “Guest Poet Roster” and invite a poet to attend your class to collect words/phrases from your students and arrange them into a poem. 
  2. Warm-up: At the end of the class preceding the collaborate communal poetry experience, show the video of Louise K. Waakaa’igan reading “Within.” Ask your students not to think too much about what the words mean. Instead they can pay attention to the sound of her voice and her body language to guess what the feelings in this poem might be.
  3. Homework/preparation: Provide students with a link to this page and ask them to copy the poem in their own handwriting.


  1. Introduce: Allow your guest poet 5 minutes to say a few words about themselves, and about why poetry matters to them.
  2. Listening: To open the collaborative communal poetry experience, show the video again. This time, have students write down or remember words or phrases that jump out at them.
  3. Discussion (spend just a few minutes): Which words are memorable for you? What do you think this poem is saying? Who is speaking? Where is she? How is she feeling? How does this poem make you feel?
  4. Gathering words: Use the “Gathering Words” list of questions to invite responses from your students, while the guest poet takes notes.
  5. Concluding: The guest poet will create a poem from the collected words and send it to you. You can then provide copies to your students.
  6. Follow up: Submit your students’ poem to Lyricality, for publication on our blog.
Guest Poet Roster

Roster of Poets for Collaborative Communal Poetry

Read Poetry Minnesota 2021

Until all possibility of COVID-19 exposure in public gatherings is past, the following poets are willing to volunteer their services for online/virtual collaboration only.

Please email your request to . Specify the name of the poet you would prefer to collaborate with. Provide meeting date, time, and platform/format you will be using. Include 2 alternate poets, to expedite the process of finding a poet whose availability matches your schedule.

Candace Black is a Professor in the Department of English at Minnesota State University Mankato and Director of the Good Thunder Reading Series. A poet and creative nonfiction writer, she has published two books of poetry— Whereabouts (Snake River Press, 2017) and The Volunteer (New Rivers Press, 2003)—and a poetry chapbook, Casa Marina (RopeWalk Press, 2010). Individual poems and essays have been published in many journals, including Hubbub, New Madrid, Ninth Letter, Pinyon, Quarterly West, Third Coast, Turnrow, War, Literature and the Arts, Willow Springs, The Writer’s Almanac.

Micki Blenkush lives in St. Cloud, MN and works as a social worker. She was selected as a 2017-2018 fellow in poetry for the Loft Literary Center’s Mentor Series program and was a 2015 recipient of an Emerging Artist Grant awarded by the Central MN Arts Board. Her writing has recently appeared in: Josephine Quarterly, Gyroscope Review, Star 82 Review, West Texas Review, Postcard Poems and Prose, Metafore, The McNeese Review, Typishly, Cagibi, and Crab Creek Review. Visit Micki’s website:

Larry Schug is retired from a life of various kinds of physical labor, including 34 years as Groundskeeper and Recycling coordinator at the College of St. Benedict. He currently volunteers as a tutor in the CSB/SJU Writing Centers and in various ways at Outdoor U. at St. John’s. He’s published eight books of poems, the most recent being A Blanket of Raven Feathers with North Star Press. Larry has won two Central Minnesota Arts Board Individual Artist awards, a 2014 Central Minnesota Arts Board Established Artist award and a 2008 McKnight Fellowship for Writers award. He lives in St. Wendel Township, just outside of St. Joseph. Visit Larry’s website:

Beth Spencer enjoys living in Minnesota. She has published a chapbook, “Mill Door” and her first poetry book, “C- in Conduct.” She has been published in Wisconsin Review, Rag Mag, Wisconsin Poets’ Calendar, Carve magazine, among others. Her essay on teaching appeared in a Geraldine R Dodge project, A Passion for Teaching. Beth and her husband have hosted five international students for one year each. Beth has won awards for teaching and counseling and she has enjoyed the tutoring training she has received through the Minnesota Literacy Council. She lives a few months each year in San Miguel de Allende, MX where she enjoys the contrast between the Minnesota winters and those of central Mexico and where she continues to struggle to learn Spanish.

Richard Robbins is a Professor in the Department of English at Minnesota State University Mankato, Director of Graduate Studies and Distinguished University Scholar. Lynx House Press recently published his sixth book of poems, Body Turn to Rain: New & Selected Poems. He has received awards or residencies from The Loft Literary Center, the Minnesota State Arts Board, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Poetry Society of America, the Hawthornden Castle International Retreat for Writers, and Willapa Bay AiR. Visit Richard’s website:

Richard Terrill is the author of What Falls Away Is Always: Poems & Conversations, as well as five previous books including Coming Late to Rachmaninoff, winner of the Minnesota Book Award for Poetry, and Saturday Night in Baoding: A China Memoir, winner of the Associated Writing Programs Award for Nonfiction. He has been awarded fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Wisconsin and Minnesota State Arts Boards, the Jerome Foundation, the MacDowell Colony, and the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, as well as three Fulbright Fellowships. Work has appeared in journals such as Iowa ReviewGeorgia Review, North American ReviewRiver TeethNew LettersFourth Ienre, and Crazyhorse.  He is Professor Emeritus at Minnesota State, Mankato, where he was Distinguished Faculty Scholar, and currently works as a jazz saxophone player.  He lives in Minneapolis. Visit Richard’s website:

Gathering Words

Gathering Words to Make a Collaborative Communal Poem — for the Guide to “Within” for ESL instructors

Refer to the full guide, found on for activities and resources to help your students experience the poem “Within” by Louise K. Waakaa’igan, and collaborate in the creation of a communal poem.

Question for Gathering Words

Who are you? Who are we? What or where are we “within” (inside of)? What colors do you see here? What are we doing here? How does that feel?

Where might you feel that in your body? (Offer examples if necessary, “Maybe in your hands, back, throat, belly”)

What do you hope for? What do you dream about? What do you hope will happen?

What do you see in your neighborhood that you don’t like? What hurts you? What does your pain feel like? Where do your tears go?

Name somewhere you have been, but are not now.

Who do you miss the most? Who else do you miss? What do you miss about them? Where do you keep that feeling of missing them?

What smells do you remember? Who reminds you of that smell. What is the Somali word for that person’s relationship to you?   

What might heal your hurt?

What is your heart-language’s word or phrase for “good way of life?” What do you want to change?

Where would you like to go, or what would you like to do? What article of clothing would guide you, or would you wear, to get to that place? Why is it hard to get to that place?

What would carry you to that place, or how would you get there?

Who do you pray to? What would you say in your prayer, about where you are and what it feels like?

How to create a collaborative communal poem

This guide suggests one way to create collaborative communal poetry, through a process I developed in 2014-2015, working with staff and clients of West Bay Residential Services in Rhode Island, as a program to for the adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities served by WBRS. I then tested and refined with Somali-American beginner-level English language learners in 2021.

About the method

A poet may implement this process alone or with the assistance of a classroom instructor:                       

  • As the recording poet, your job is to collect the phrases offered by the participants in response to a poem they’ve read (or heard) together. I have worked primarily with people who have limited language skills. You may want to adapt your questions to the appropriate level of language of your participants.
  • Write their responses on a flip pad, scrawl them in a large sketch pad, or type them into a computer document — whatever is most comfortable for you. Feel free to say “Slow down, please.” Or, “Could you repeat that.”
  • After the gathering session, use the collected words to create a poem based on the structure of the poem that served as your prompt. Of feel free to let the generated material take you wherever it wants to go. But do try to write in the voice(s) of the people whose words you collected.
  • Return the generated poem to the students and instructor. You can also submit the poem to Lyricality for publication.
  • Here’s a video about the invention and first implementation of the process in Rhode Island:
  • And here’s the book that came out of a year of making collaborative communal poetry at West Bay Residential Services in Rhode Island:
  • To request a free pdf of Thursdays at 2, (which may help you develop your own ideas for working with this method) email

    Implement the method

    • Begin by understanding the goal. We are trying to bring the unique, individual talents of group members together in collaboration to make a poem that may help them appreciate the wonder, joy and love wrapped up in daily experiences. We want to open their eyes to the important, mysterious truth that although there are superficial differences in our appearances, abilities, thoughts, and opinions, in our essential humanity all of us are very much the same.
    • Read the prompting poem to the group and/or show a video of the poet reading.
    • Ask questions to elicit responses. If you’re working with Louise K. Waakaa’igan’s poem “Within,” there is a list of questions on Lyricality’s resources page.
    • If those questions aren’t generating enough interesting material to work with, probe deeper. Use the phrases generated to ask questions that end with the word like. For example: what does that look like? smell like? sound like? taste like? feel like? Or, if your group has trouble with abstract concepts (people who have intellectual processing disabilities), ask them what’s your favorite sweet (sour, salty) food? favorite color? name something soft (slippery, cold)? what smells make you happy? what else is that color?
    • Perhaps pick a key word someone has said, and ask for rhyming words. Write down those words.
    • Perhaps make a list of words that describe the color, texture, smell, taste, and sound of an object or place. Plug the best of those into your poem.
    • Depending on the group, it may be helpful to find a way to appreciate each contribution! Say “good one!” “thank you!” “that’s so interesting!” “I never would have thought of that!” “yes!” “beautiful!” If you sincerely value and give reverent attention to every participant, the group will learn to see and listen to one another more carefully.
    • The purpose of this activity is to build deeper, more respectful relationships. Therefore it’s important to have fun!

Louise K. Waakaa’igan reads “Within”

Read Poetry 2021 Sponsors and Supporters: 

Read Poetry 2021 is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Central MN Arts Board, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.