The poets I work with weekly have been writing poems about community care, self-care, self-love, joy, resilience, and refuge. During the Citywide Poets session, I believe we are using poems to heal and process our current world.
Citywide Poets, InsideOut’s award-winning after school program provides teens with weekly creative writing workshops, publication, and performance opportunities. Writer-in-Residence Christiana Castillo led our Citywide Poets at our in-person school-based sites and co-teaches Virtual Citywide Poets during in the summer of 2020. Here’s how Christiana describes Citywide Poets from her first-hand vantage:
The school bell rings and a regular school classroom transforms into a space that is a safe for youth to explore their creativity that honors and values student voices. Students read poems, engage in writing activities, share their work, and cheer each other on. Citywide Poets sessions are filled with students having the opportunity to have fun, make connections, but also hold space for thoughtfulness and self exploration. Citywide Poets not only offers safe spaces and community, but opportunities for young poets to meet other youth across the city of Detroit and beyond.
Citywide Poets transforms students’ relationship to and confidence in their own voices. Christiana describes one Citywide Poets student’s transformation during freshman year:
He shared that he enjoyed writing and wanted to get better at it, but he had not written much poetry before. Kahill went from being a student that often stayed quiet and thoughtful, to being more willing to share his work and read example poems as the year went on. He went from thinking of possibly being a scientist to wanting to be a writer by the end of the year, or possibly both. It was great to see the growth in his craft and confidence.
Citywide Poets sessions tap into personal identity and connect students to work by culturally relevant authors. Christiana describes a favorite lesson this year where students explored their names:
We investigated how our given and chosen names hold power. This included giving the students a chance to explore the history of their names and give their names their own meanings in a poem. Students were able to write poems owning their names after watching the poem “When You Say My Name” by Zachary Caballero, reading the poem “Alternate Names For Black Boys” by Danez Smith and an excerpt of “The House on Mango Street” by Sandra Cisneros.
As a Writer-in-Residence, Christiana enjoys bringing poems to life through recordings of spoken word performances: “The energy spoken word artists share and the passion of their experiences often excites students to explore their own poetry and how to present it. This leads to more urgency in the creation of poems.”
When Citywide Poets sites closed due to COVID-19, InsideOut shifted to an online model to continue to support students self-expression during challenging times. Christiana Castillo and Jassmine Parks co-facilitate this critical online space for creativity:
We are in a global pandemic all while seeing rebellions and protests happen across the world due to police brutality and focusing on justice thanks to the Black Lives Matter Movement. The poets I work with weekly have been writing poems about community care, self-care, self-love, joy, resilience, and refuge. During the Citywide Poets session, I believe we are using poems to heal and process our current world.