Essential Words

InsideOut’s Louder Than a Bomb Virtual Youth Poetry Festival Hub

The Coronavirus may have prevented us from hosting our annual festival in Detroit this year, but it didn’t shut us down! Essential Words: Louder Than a Bomb Virtual Youth Poetry Festival was InsideOut’s online offering of writers first aid, facilitated workshops, and digital open mics — all created for teens (ages 13-19) and modeled on our award-winning after-school program Citywide Poets.

And we’ve put it all here in InsideOut’s Essential Words Hub. Revisit some of our favorite writing prompts and dig into a few new, guided lessons designed to help teens expand their literary vocabulary, discover new writers, and add to their toolbox of creative expression through improv and physical movement. Although we can’t match the magic of our in-person sessions, what waits for you below will bring you pretty close in the meantime. Write on + be well.

DISPATCHES FROM HOME is a peek into the rich, creative lives of teens served by InsideOut Literary Arts during the COVID-19 pandemic. Here you’ll find writing from InsideOut’s award-winning after school program (Citywide Poets) and this year’s virtual youth poetry festival (Essential Words).

Both programs, hosted entirely online Spring and Summer 2020, are fierce testaments to the social justice community of youth and adults we’ve aimed to build over 25 years. The generous contributions of poets like Darius Parker and Catharine Batsios are only a sample of the care and advocacy with which we write alongside the voices of the future — voices from Detroit to Chicago and all the way down to Durham, NC.


Akira K. | Almand Martin, Jr. | Birch Saperstein | Cassidy Howard
Catharine Batsios | Claire Swadling | Darius Parker | De’Ja Jones
Erin Conley | Ja’mari McLawery Jaelah Glenn | Katja Rowan
Laila King | Shannon Conley | Symone Jones | Tianna Jones


Suma Karaman Rosen & LaShaun phoenix Moore


How sharp are your five senses? Reconnect with the memories and tiny details that inspire your story, no matter what form your storytelling takes. With these open-ended writing prompts, we encourage you to simply put pen to paper and see what happens.


Write a HAIKU about the way your favorite song makes you feel. (Definition: A haiku is a short poem with a 5-7-5 line structure: Line 1: Five Syllables. Line 2: Seven Syllables. Line 3: Five Syllables).

Write a response to a song you know well.

Listen to the trees outside of our window. What do they say to you?


Write an ODE to your favorite fast food. (Definition: An ode is a poem written in praise of a person, place, or thing.)

Make a list of things that taste like LOVE to you. Then write about a world without one of the items on your list.

What flavors remind you of childhood?


Write about something in your house that you can’t help but touch whenever you walk past it.

Write about what you touch in a museum if you could.

What is your favorite soft item to touch? What of the moon was made out of it? Write about it.


Think about your favorite scent and your least favorite scent. Write about the smell that results from combining these two smells. Don’t forget to name your new smell!

What does HOME smell like?

What does your FAVORITE COLOR smell like?
What does a HUG from your favorite person smell like?


Some of our best stories begin as journal entries. Try these:

Write a love letter or love poem to your favorite quarantine snack.

VIDEO FREESTYLE: Spit a freestyle about what has been your favorite thing about being at home?

How are you affected by spending so much time with your family?


If you missed LTAB Online in May, you’re in luck: Developed by InsideOut’s talented Writers-in-Residence, these guided lessons include everything you need to re-create a meaningful exploration of writing craft through a social justice lens. Each lesson includes a glossary of literary terms, example texts from some of our favorite poets, and helpful links to supplemental material.


A big part of the Louder Than a Bomb festival experience are the dynamic performances that accompany the raw poetry and storytelling of young writers. Hosted by our partners at Detroit Creativity Project, these video exercises in improvisation are designed to help youth use their poetry to take creative risks on the stage and on the page. Click here for a full playlist of DCP improv exercises you can do at home, example texts from some of our favorite poets, and helpful links to supplemental material.

InsideOut’s Louder Than a Bomb Youth Poetry Festival is made possible with generous support from

Essential Words Final Stage is supported in part by Poets & Writers, thanks to a grant from the Hearst Foundations.