Tuesday, September 8, 2009

I Am Writing My Name

The French poet Edmond Jabes once wrote: "When, as a child, I wrote my name for the first time, I realized I was beginning a book."

When a child learns to write their name they then write it everywhere: on the sidewalk, on the wall, in their pudding. Get the picture?

I learned this best from my own kids (my son continues to "sign" his signature on those things that belong to him, and also on some things that don't). The other day my fourteen year old daughter was on her hands and knees in the street (during a block party) writing her name on the concrete in yellow and pink. 

Do we ever outgrow our fascinations with our names? To this day I sometimes with just the tip of my finger scribble my name in the dust of my desktops, in the breadcrumbs of the dinner table. Enough about me.

Here's a poem that says what I'm trying to say better than I am able to say it.

I Am Writing My Name

I am writing my name
across the sky, across the clouds,

I am writing my name
across the street, across my rooftop,

I am writing my name
across my arm, across my education,

because I want to leave a mark.

Quentin S.
3rd Grade
InsideOut Student
Detroit Public Schools

Poets and graffiti artists both—Marcus Was Here..... Johnny Was Here....

We all just want to "leave a mark."

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

When I Get the Money


Gold, diamonds, platinum will be mine.
I'll buy Hammer's old house and drink fine wine.

I'll give money to the poor in Mozambique.
I'll buy the biggest diamond, the diamond of Mystique.

When I get the money I'll give a tenth to Yahweh.
I'll buy my own city and create a day called Ray Day.

When I get the money I'll buy me a statue in my image.
I'll hire a historian to retrace my family's lineage.

When I get the money I'll tell the world, "I got money!"
I'll bring Fred Sanford back to life and make him call his son Dummy.

When I get the money I'll spend it all on roast pheasant.
But I'll still have money left over to give to the poorest peasant.

Raynard P.
Cody High School
InsideOut Student
Detroit Public Schools

This is just to say, to all who read without complaint my steady stream of emails and Facebook messages that landed in in-boxes all across the city and country, that InsideOut was on the receiving end of $24,905 US dollars during our latest fundraising campaign.

We couldn't have done any of this without all of you who reached into your own pockets and helped spread the word, for us, about us.

Thanks for making it all possible.

We can't thank you enough.

To borrow from another poem, "What Money Can't Buy," written by Veronica G. of Southwestern High School:

"What I want,/ money can't buy/...a few people/ to stand by my side."

We appreciate your good company.

Most sincerely yours,

Peter Markus
Senior Writer
InsideOut Literary Arts Project

Friday, August 21, 2009

Big Red Drum


Hidden in my heart
is a giant imagination.

Hidden in that giant imagination
there is a long poem.

Hidden in that long poem
is a tiny baby crying for love.

Hidden in that tiny baby
is a gray clock telling the time.

Hidden in that gray clock
is my joyful life.

Hidden in my joyful life
is my big family.

Hidden in my big family
is my huge heart.

Hidden in my huge heart
is a little red drum keeping me alive.

Arianna B.
3rd Grader
Golightly Educational Center
InsideOut Student
Detroit Public Schools

Thanks to all those who were able to participate or who helped spread the word about the Community Foundation Challenge Fund. It was a terrific show of strength and generosity towards not only InsideOut but to the entire Southeast Michigan Arts Community.

To all of you who make up the BIG FAMILY in the JOYFUL LIFE that is INSIDEOUT, know too that you are the BIG RED DRUM that helps keep us and our song and OUR LONG POEM alive and beating.

And the beat goes on, and on, thanks to you,
Peter Markus

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Time is Now


My face
is a book

of invisible
scars. Each 

scar tells
a story.

Each story

Back when I
was small.

Alex G.
Southwestern High School
InsideOut Student
Detroit Public Schools

This bit of tenderness from a six-foot tall, puffy-faced high school student who didn't like to talk. 

I wish I'd written this, yes, for sure. 

But I'm glad that, as a kid, I didn't see myself in this particularly skewed way—or maybe I did but I simply didn't know how to put words to what I was seeing—a way that made Alex, when he looked into his mirror, see a face that was "a book of invisible scars."

Only the poet in us knows what I like to call "the real me, the one nobody sees." I borrow this line from Sandra Cisnersos' The House on Mango Street and use it to get students to look closely, to dig deeper, to feel and then speak and make art from that feeling.

Sometimes that "real me" is larger than life, a spiritual giant of sorts.

Take a look at this poem by Quin'dara, one of those rare students who was born to be a poet.


The real me
that nobody sees
is walking
on mid air.

When the wind
blows hard
I do not fall.

There is always a piece
of mid-air wind
that I alone
am walking on.

No one understands
that I am the one
bringing the wind
its destination.

The wind stands over
and watches over
everyone. I am like
another God

that nobody sees
walking across the sky.

Quin'dara G.
Southwestern High School
InsideOut Student
Detroit Public Schools

Once again, I wish I'd written this.

I hope you'll consider making a donation, TODAY, yes, the TIME is NOW, to the InsideOut Literary Arts Project through the Community Foundation's challenge grant. Go the website NOW (the site goes live at 10:00 a.m. EST) and stretch your gift to InsideOut by 50%.


Help more poets like Quin'dara see and give voice to "the real me." 

Help more students like Alex G. give themselves permission to say what they otherwise wouldn't be able to say.

That's what we're all about here at InsideOut.

What is inside us, waiting unseen and hiding unheard, needs to be brought out.

As real as I can be, 
Peter Markus

P.S. A big THANK YOU to all of you who read these email pleas and THANKS to EVERY ONE of you, whether you can donate now or not, I've appreciated all the kind words written and spoken back to me in response to the words of these InsideOut students.

A Baseball as Big as This


A baseball
as big
as this
could knock
a hole
through the
house where
the president
lives. You
could play
catch with 
God with
a baseball
as big
as this. 
And after
you are
done playing
with it
you can
throw it
back to
the sky.

Kwame, 4th Grade
Fitzgerald Elementary
InsideOut Student
Detroit Public Schools

This is Kwame's written response to Robert Moskowitz's painting "Hard Ball III" which is a part of the permanent collection at The Detroit Institute of the Arts.

If you've been to the DIA, it's the painting of a silhouetted pitcher in the background and a baseball in the forefront that is, as the poem suggests, very BIG.

When I first looked at this painting, all I thought of was a rising fastball too high to hit. 

Kwame sees this image beyond the sport itself: it becomes a cosmic image in his hands, something akin to the sun and moon.

I wish I saw the world through his eyes.

I wish I'd written this.

To support more student writing about art (and baseball) I hope you'll consider participating in the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan Challenge Grant.

The challenge begins TOMORROW at 10 a.m., August 18th, and will end as soon as the $1,000,000 is exhausted, so it's crucial for supporters of InsideOut to go online to take advantage of these available matching funds.

More info can be found here: http://www.cfsem.org/

To learn more about InsideOut go here:http://insideoutdetroit.org/index.php

Remember: first pitch is TOMORROW, August 18th, at 10 a.m. sharp. 

It's a race for the prize. Help us hit one out of the park.

Best wishes from the bullpen,
Peter Markus

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Love Is a Big Blue Cadillac

Love Is a Big Blue Cadillac 

that never runs 
out of gas. It drives 
all the way down 
to Mississippi 
to see his wife. 
I watch them kiss. 

When they kiss,
the sun rises 
like a cherry
into the sky 
turning the whole 
universe red.

         These words, written by Treshon, a third-grader at Fitzgerald Elementary, define a love that all of us should aim for. Treshon’s vision for Love (in the uppercase) is the bull’s-eye all of us should shoot our arrows towards. It’s a love that lasts because it “never runs out of gas.” It's a love that goes out of the way, beyond the limits of reason, “it drives all the way down to Mississippi,” for a simple kiss. That kiss, witnessed as it is by the speaker of this poem, has the power to transform the world where this kiss is lipsticked, where this kiss is forever planted onto the page. The love that leads up to this kiss is a love that is more powerful and permanent than ourselves: it is bigger than me, the poem tells us, it is bigger than us all: it's a spiritual love that can move mountains, that can take a crumb of bread and feed those of us who come with an open mouth and open heart to take in this poem's power. Love, according to this poem, love, in the eyes of this young poet, is cosmic, it can summon the sun out of hiding so that the whole universe is burning red with love, love, love.

         I love in the poem’s final line the precision of and the placement of that word, “whole.” Not just “my” world, “my” universe, not just the singular, the solipsistic “Me, Myself, & I” that stands at the center of so much poetry. But the WHOLE universe, says the big heart of this child. Because love, Treshon wants us to know, is what connects us all to skies that our eyes have never before seen. And it seems to me that in times like these, more than ever before, we need this kind of love, we need these words—these acts—of love.

Unlike Treshon's big blue Cadillac, the InsideOut Literary Arts Project runs on a gas that needs refueling. If you think poems like Treshon's are vital to us as a cultural community, I hope you'll consider participating in our latest fundraising opportunity to add fuel and fire to our engine. 

On August 18th, beginning at 10:00 a.m., all gifts donated to the InsideOut Literary Arts Project through the Community Foundation website will be half-matched. A donation of $25, for example, ends up as $37.50 in the InsideOut gas tank.

You can keep the Cadillac running. You can spread the love.

Every little kiss counts.

Go here for more info about InsideOut: http://insideoutdetroit.org/index.php
Go here for more info about the Community Foundation Challenge Grant: http://www.cfsem.org/initiatives-and-programs/arts-culture-challenge
Make this page your homepage to remind you about the 18th: http://insideoutdetroit.org/

Affectionately yours and rolling towards the interstate,
Peter Markus

Saturday, August 15, 2009

I Wish I'd Written This


I have a river
in my back yard.

The sun is a fish
in the sky.

My dad likes
to catch fish

with his feet.
There is a fish

that likes to jump
on the moon.

At night
the fish creates fire

by hammering
two moon rocks together

with a fishing pole
so he can cook himself up

in the morning
for breakfast.

Javon, 5th Grade
Fitzgerald Elementary
Detroit Public Schools

If you think poems like this one need to be written and heard, I hope you'll consider pitching in on August 18th to keep the river flowing.

Click here to donate to the InsideOut Literary Arts Project and watch your gift grow thanks to the Community Foundation Challenge Grant. http://www.cfsem.org/insideout-literary-arts-project

If fishes were wishes, I'd have a bucket filled with gold.

Fish on,
Peter Markus

Monday, August 10, 2009

Community Foundation Challenge Grant

Dear Friends,

The InsideOut Literary Arts Project, where I work as its Senior Writer, is looking for your help.

For the past 15 years, InsideOut has placed creative writers—poets, novelists, short story writers—into Detroit Public School classrooms as a way of getting students to actively engage in the power and pleasure of language and the imagination.

I've been a writer with InsideOut since its inception. It's a part of who I am in the world. I can tell you, first-hand, that the work we do changes lives. 

When a child picks up a pencil and is asked to gaze up inside it, anything—no everything—is possible.

When you write it down, I often tell them, people have no choice but to listen, to see what you see, to know what you know.

See for yourself. Check out this poem written by a 4th grader at Fitzgerald Elementary. 

Until Dark Time
--in memory of my mom

Back when I was five
something bad happened.

I'm nine now. But back
when I was five

my mom worked
at a job

in a big black
building. I kept on

bugging her
that day

to let me come
to work with her.

My mom kept saying
no sweetheart

you can't come
to work with me

because, she said,
she had to work.

When my mom went to work
that day, my mom,

she never came back.
My brother and me, we waited

until dark time
for our mom to come back home.

I waited and watched
for the car

to drive up
to drop off my mom.

My neighbor came over,
her name is Monique.

We went inside our house
and ate, and drank,

then I played
with my neighbor Miranda

until Bookie came over
with her white car.

We drove
in that white car

to the church
to see

my mom. At church,
it was blue

inside there
like the sky.

Three days later
it was Christmas.

The bus that hit
my mom as she waited

at the bus stop---
the driver

of that bus
was drunk.

He didn't even know
what he did

when he ran
that bus up against

the bus stop bench
killing my mom.

Let me tell you what I knew about Dion before he wrote that poem. 

Dion was that quiet kid in the back of the classroom. Before he wrote that poem I can honestly say that I didn't know who Dion was. He was just a faceless name. A nameless face. When, at the end of our session together, I collected what the students had written on this particular day, and when I found what Dion had written down, I couldn't believe what I was reading. I couldn't put a name to its face. 

So I walked back into Mr. Petis's room, apologized for the interruption, and whispered into his teacherly ear, "Which one is Dion?" He pointed to a small, frail-looking child in the back of the room. Dion reminded me of a bird that had fallen out of its nest. I couldn't believe that such big words could be contained by such a small body.

I don't recall the actual assignment that triggered Dion's poem. I know with complete certainty that I did not ask the students to write about loss, or the death of a loved one. I tend to use language as a tool to celebrate and revel rather than to grieve. There is enough grief in the worlds of these children without me forcing them to look in places where they might not want to look. 

It's possible that the assignment that day was simply to write about something happened back when you were little. Maybe I had asked them to write about a "first" in their life: the first time they rode a bike, or flew a kite, or went fishing. You get the picture. I didn't expect to find a poem about a young boy losing his mother to a drunk driver. 

I was torn up and blown away by what I found and so I pulled Dion out of the classroom and we sat down in the hallway and we spoke about what he'd just a few minutes ago written. I remember telling Dion that the poem he just wrote was really powerful and beautiful and sad and I remember also asking him if what he'd written down was true. Why I asked this I don't know the reason why. Maybe I was hoping he'd made it up so that I wouldn't have to imagine his grief.

But he nodded yes, mostly with his eyes, and said that it was and from here he went on to re-tell me some of the details of what had happened. It was a crushing half hour that we spent together out in the quiet hum of his massive inner city elementary school with close to two-thousand other Dions sitting in classrooms just like his. 

I know I'll never forget it. I hope that Dion remembers it still. I like to believe that moments like these don't simply disappear. For me the moment is forever fixed in time because of the poem which, whenever I return to it, I am transported back to that day when this little bird of a boy whose life and name I hardly knew changed my own life forever. 

Dion went on, later in the year, to read this poem in front of hundreds of people at our year-end InsideOut gala celebration. Here again Dion's works left their mark on all those who were there to hear it.

That's just one story behind just one of the many poems written each year in an InsideOut classroom. Now that I've been taken back, through time and space, by Dion's poem, I remember now that this was a poem written in the year immediately after the events of 9/11. That same year a 5th grader at the same school wrote this short poem:

In My Hands

In my hands
the twin towers
still stand
like waterfalls
always falling.

The world, though, thank goodness, is not always so dark. I'd say most of the poems written by these young poets sing and celebrate what to them is beautiful and loved in their lives. I could bombard you with a whole slew of poems here, but instead I'll hit you with just this one, a poem from a 3rd grader called "A Love That is Bigger Than Me."

A Love That is Bigger Than Me

I love the moon
when it is shining

big and white
over the whole world.

I love the touch
of red fresh apples.

I love the power
of my magic pencil.

I love the song
of birds singing

in the morning.
I love the moon

singing at night.
My mother

is more beautiful
than the moon.

She smells better
than ten-thousand

flowers growing
across the world.

If you've stayed with me this far and have read the poems up above then I believe that you have begun to see and to believe in what we do at InsideOut.

If you'd like more information, please check out our website: www.insideoutdetroit.org

If you'd like to help us continue to do what we do, here's what you can do next:

The Community Foundation of Southeast Michigan will match us with a dollar for every two dollars donated to InsideOut through their current Community Foundation challenge grant. So, for instance, a donation of $50 ends up as a $75 gift to us.

Here are the details: 
Beginning August 18, beginning at 10:00 a.m. go to www.cfsem.org to make a gift through the Community Foundation's safe and easy website. Organizations are listed in a pull-down menu. Gifts can range from $25 -$10,000. Donations must be made via the site through credit card and e-check in order to be matched.

These matching funds will go fast. We are the only literary arts organization of our kind that has been selected for this program. So if you care about youth and literary self-expression I hope that you will become a donor.

I tell my students, "Reach deep. Every word is a gift." It was St. Therese who said, some 400 years ago, "Words lead to deeds.... They prepare the soul, make it ready, and move it to tenderness."

All best wishes and ready to both give and receive, with much appreciation,

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

More Poems from the Locomotion Sessions: Today I Want To Yell

Here's another poem written during one of the Locomotion sessions. I'd say it speaks for itself:

Today I Want To Yell


thinking of

my grandma


lives in


She is

the biggest


in the sky.

I wish

she would


back to me


that's not

my grandma

that's just

the shell.

My grandma

is still

at home




her pop

and eating





I go to bed

I say

"I love you."

Just them

three words

and then

"don't let

the bed

bugs bite"





Jasmine Johnson

Golightly Educational Center

Monday, June 8, 2009

A Poet's Heart

With two of my classes, a 5th grade class at Golightly Educational Center and a class of 4th graders at Mark Twain, we read Jacqueline Woodson's novel-in-verse Locomotion.

Locomotion tells the story of 11-year-old Lonnie Collins Motion who lost his mother and father to a house fire when he was seven. This tragedy shapes and haunts who Lonnie is and becomes the source of his poetry when his teacher introduces him to the power of words. 

My students really identified with Lonnie's story (I plan to talk about this more in a later post) and Lonnie's poems take many poetic forms (from haiku to epistle) that make this book a very teachable, meaningful book for the poetry classroom.

Lonnie, as his teacher tells him near the end of the book, has the heart of a poet.

Here's a poem written by Ryan Estmond who, like Lonnie, has a poet's heart too:

A Poet's Heart

I have a
poet's heart, filled with

poetry, gifted
with love

inside my


I am gifted
with a

poet's heart
and blessed with love and

poetry inside
my heart.

Ryan Estmond

I hope to post some more poems inspired by Locomotion in the days and weeks to come. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Poetry doesn't need to explain, or answer. This is something that I try to get students to embrace, which isn't easy for them to do. High school aged poets pride themselves on how much they think they know. They are taught to be clear, to deliver to the page whatever truth might be in them to bring out to the world. Heavy burden for anyone to carry, I think. Why not let the poem propose its own set of mysteries, I like to ask them. Open yourself up to that, I say. The results can be quite surprising and poets, young or old, can arrive at an artifact that might not otherwise be found.

What I Don't Know
Twelve o'clock at night
when the late night TV flickers
in the dark. Late night comedy shows pour
into my sleeping mother's ears.
What will become of us? Will she be happy
in the future? How can I help her?
Will I be able to support and keep myself
happy? Mortician, funeral director, zookeeper?
Is college going to work? Loans, scholarships, grants?
Will my government help us? Can we get
out alive and happy? What will become of
social security? My medicine? Medicaid? Retirement?
My mother wakes. She turns to me and asks,
"Are you okay?"
I reply with dry, tired eyes. "I don't know yet."
I turn to the window. It's dawn.
Samantha Bloomer
Western International High School
* * *
Things I Don’t Know
A man walks his dog and my dogs bark
As if ready to jump across the gate.
I stare out the window and try to understand
Why is it that dogs go after one another?
And why do we try to quiet them down?
Rocio Gomez
Western International High School

Friday, May 1, 2009

Through the Mouth of a Puppet

For the past several years now I've helped coordinate a collaboration between InsideOut and the Detroit PuppetArt Theater. Every year I'm amazed by the stories that get told. Touching. Funny. Inventive. Talk about finding your voice as a writer. It's amazing how oftentimes the most interior students become almost other-than when they get to speak through the mouth of a puppet. It's always a sublime way to cap off the end of the school year. 

This year the students at Hanstein Elementary will be performing their puppet plays on May 6th at Noon at the PuppetArt Theater located at 25 East Grand River in downtown Detroit. For more info call (313) 965-5332.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Motor City, or The Poetry Capital of the World

A poem about a pencil that can walk is clearly a poem driven by a child’s wild sense of invention, but here in the Motor City poems about cars are powered by a necessity to get from one place to the next. It’s true: we are both the stories we tell as well as the cars that we drive. Sometimes, as is the case with “My Car” by Raphael Kirkland, our cars have seen better days. But that doesn’t keep us also from dreaming up the car of our dreams as you can see in “Dream Car” by Sean McCraney and “The Hot Streak” by Deante Smith.

My Car

My car is poor.
It has one rim, a left mirror,
a sign that says,
"Why lie, I need a drink!"
The best tires it's ever had were four
cement blocks.
My car can't fly,
it doesn't even have doors to open
to act like it's flying.
My car has a window,
not windows, just a single
window. It used to have a steering wheel.
It runs on gas
but does it really matter.
My car will sit
in the same spot
for as long as the old train station.
If it could talk,
my car would cuss me out.
Raphael Kirkland
12th Grade

Dream Car
’96 Impala
all black
24 inch rims
all black
butterfly doors
lotta bass
black-tint windows
all-white interior
DVD player
24 inch TV
Comcast Cable
Xbox 360
I will call it
Da Oreo.
Sean McCraney
12th Grade
The Hot Streak
The car that can fly.
The car with nobody driving it.
The car with burning wheels.
The car that looks like gold.
The car that is made out of money.
The car that wears shoes.
The car that’s got boosters.
The car that loves math.
The car that became a hero.
The car that looks like a lion.
The car that was on fire.
The car that loves to draw.
The car that goes to the moon.
The car that can lay an egg.
The car that lights up like fireworks.
The car that loves mud.
The car that loves to party.
The car that painted the pig blue.
Car of my dreams.
My car.
Deante Smith
3rd Grade



Monday, April 20, 2009

My Pencil Walks

My Pencil Walks





















can help

me jump

high in

the sky.


My pencil walks

like a


stick that

is my pet.


My pencil is a tree

that makes apples.


My pencil is a

dog that barks

all night.


Patty Lare

2nd Grade

Golightly Educational Center