Citywide Poets

Citywide Poets

InsideOut Literary Arts Project
2111 Woodward Avenue
Suite 1010
Detroit, MI 48201
Phone: 313-965-5332
Fax: 313-216-1761

Focus: Literary Arts

Annual Number Participating: 55

Ages: High School

Annual Budget: $76,500


“Discarded gloves left
by the tableside to make
room for anxious fingers
that grip pens like oars
in a boat rushing to shore.
This is poetry’s womb.
—From “Tenth Floor, Left Corner (poetry class)”

In this poem, 11th grader Lena Cintrón likens her poetry class, held in a room overlooking the city of Detroit, to a “womb” from which poetry is born. And that, in fact, is an apt metaphor for the nurturing quality of Citywide Poets (CWP), the intensive after-school poetry-writing program in which Lena participates.

Every week, at various sites around the city, local poets encourage and challenge small groups of CWP participants, as they read, write, and critique each other’s work. “We struggle against kneejerk, clichéd writing so they learn there’s a deeper way to go with their words,” comments poet Terry Blackhawk, founding director of InsideOut Literary Arts Project, which sponsors the program.

In addition, three times a year, the teens gather for an afternoon workshop with a nationally acclaimed guest poet, who further expands participants’ exposure to the world of words. The students, who receive coaching in performance skills, host the visiting poet’s evening reading. They also perform at other community and literary events throughout the year and travel to a national poetry slam. At the end of the school year, participants receive a modest stipend, based on attendance.

Those who stick with the program can undergo dramatic transformations. Teens who once hid their faces behind their papers or spoke in a whisper now do public readings with poise and assurance. “You kind of have your heart in your throat when you hear how risk-taking, how vulnerable the kids are willing to be,” Blackhawk observes.

Perhaps even more important, participants “learn that what they say and who they are has weight and validity,” she adds. That contributes to “an inner resilience” that she believes helps teens avoid negative influences and aim high.

In fact, in a city with one of the lowest high school graduation rates in the country, 100 percent of CWP alumni finish high school and more than 90 percent go on to college—evidence that this program nurtures not only poetry, but also an expanded sense of possibility among inner-city teens.

Boldness is what InsideOut brought out in me. What I found so amazing was my newfound courage to perform in front of an audience full of people I knew. I was no longer in the back row. I was center stage and unafraid.

Andrew Hawkes former participant, Citywide Poets