THE BLOG
05/22/2013 10:31 am ET | Updated Jul 21, 2013

GET VERSED With the Youth of InsideOut

Elayne Gross

Shakespeare? Jazz? Poetry? Radio broadcasting? Vocal music? Video production? Yes, yes, and more yesses. All of these are coming soon, summer into fall, to Detroit teens through the Detroit School of Arts. Yesterday I had the privilege of speaking about InsideOut Literary Arts' part in this artistic ferment as I addressed the school's governing council, parents and teachers. I was proud to announce that this Thursday several DSA students will join the 46 other brave Detroit students on stage at the elegant and historic Detroit Institute of Arts Film Theatre as they present original works of poetry, music and dance inspired by this year's InsideOut program in Detroit Public Schools. Now in its third year, our joyful annual GET VERSED showcase is not to be missed.

Like the many Detroit schools we serve, Detroit School of Arts is a thriving place, and InsideOut is grateful to partner with students and staff there. Here's an example that shows how deep, far ranging and engaging partnerships in the arts can be.

"The Honeybee" poetry video was produced in collaboration with DSA's dedicated art teacher, Mr. John Wood and his students; and our friends at Channel 56, Detroit Public TV, have kindly posted this video on Detroit Performs. "The Honeybee" won a Michigan Youth Arts Festival Award for the students, who used artwork by elementary students from iO classrooms to create this charming piece. The poem by Breauna Larease Roache, who was a participant in iO's Citywide Poets and a Cass Technical High School student at the time, won an MYAF Certificate of Merit in Poetry.

This year Breauna graduated with literary honors from Florida A & M University, which she attended on a scholarship that she earned for her poetry. She has been accepted to the selective Cave Canem retreat that is committed to cultivating the artistic and professional growth of African American poets. Her creative joy has recently, as per Facebook, come from "starring in plays and winning poetry contests and dancing in my chair and pickin my afro and readin books and writin papers on pre-colonial Afrika and painting my toes and singing in my car (by myself) and picking dandelions and gazing at the Sun and giving thanks." As with many iO alums, I am proud of Breauna's talents, awed by her style and refreshed by her spirit.

Mr. Wood is an accomplished visual artist himself and has been a valued partner on many projects with iO. His students have created a video for each of the Lotus Press High School Poetry Prize poems selected by Detroit Poet Laureate Naomi Long Madgett, and he participated in iO's 2011 Big Read program, which brought the poetry of Emily Dickinson to Detroit audiences in classrooms and communities. That year his students prepared a video response to Dickinson's "Fame Is a Bee," which we presented before a full audience at the National Council of Teachers of English Annual Convention in Chicago. I will not soon forget Mr. Wood's emotional testimony about the hearing impaired students -- many of whom had seldom spoken in class, and never on camera, before -- who produced and starred in the video.

As I walked out of the DSA council meeting, a parent accompanied me into the hall. He introduced himself as Mr. Bonner, whose sons and daughter had also participated in the Big Read with iO. Our Dickinson Big Read included a weeklong "Camp Dickinson" hosted by Oliver Ragsdale and the Virgil H. Carr Center. The center's artists extraordinaire -- jazz pianist Buddy Budson, painter Henry Heading and dancer Jessica Thomas - worked with iO poet Kristine Uyeda and special guest David Blair to help students use many artistic resources to express Dickinson's poetry. Their breathtaking interpretation of "The Wind begun to knead the Grass..." performed in dance, music, song and visual art (with their painting as a backdrop projected behind the stage) formed the centerpiece of iO's first GET VERSED, and Mr. Bonner kindly reminded me of his appreciation for his children's participation.

get versed

Photo Credit: Elayne Gross

Inspired by then iO board member Zak Rosen, our first GET VERSED featured David Blair as emcee in one of his last public appearances. Each year at this time I remember the vision, love and energy that he brought to iO and to everyone he touched. That night he recited his iconic "Detroit While I Was Away," and performed a beautiful song he composed setting Dickinson's "I haven't told my garden yet" to acoustic guitar with Jessica Thomas dancing en pointe. These memories nourish and sustain me, as do Blair's kind words about the value of the work we do. We at iO are also nurtured and proud to find ourselves in the center of a rich network of supporters, in the Detroit community and across the nation. Please, come out, help the GET VERSED tradition to grow and thrive, and share with us the pleasure and power of the voices of our city's youth. You can buy tickets here.