Lemon’s Lesson: Turn Bad Experiences into Art

Have you heard? Coming up on June 4th is the Inside Jokes comedy club event, which benefits the NYWC’s Justice Writing Program (buy your tickets now, it will be an awesome night for a great cause). The Justice Writing Program offers free creative writing classes to men and women in Riker’s Island Jail, as well as recently released youth and adults re-entering. In honor of the Justice Writing Program, today’s prompt highlights Lemon Andersen, a man who exemplifies what the program is all about: using writing as a way to express negative past experiences in a positive way.

Lemon Andersen received an unorthodox education in poetry. He didn’t learn rhyme and meter in a prestigious boarding school classroom, as many in literary circles did. Instead, as he explained during a TED performance last December, “I was getting those beats kicked and shoved into me.” A two-time felon himself, Andersen is no stranger to the crime and violence of the inner city. Yet he did not remain a criminal for long, and has risen to become a well-known and successful poet, spoken word artist, and actor. He’s also read his work at a number of NYWC events over the years.

Andersen’s poetry is firmly based on his challenging and gritty childhood and young adulthood. He draws on these experiences to make potent spoken word poetry, but he also uses words musically, making his poetry beautiful and transcendent.

As Andersen said, the rhythms and words of his poetry come from the tough life he lived as a young man. Think of a struggle you’ve faced in the past. Paying special attention to rhythm and word choice, try to evoke that experience and express what it means for you.