04/01/2013 11:58 am ET Updated Jun 01, 2013

Celebrate Poetry Month: Dream of Your Dreams

Spring is the mischief in me, famously wrote Robert Frost, conjuring the rising spirit of the spring season as he tries to get a literal-minded, tradition-bound neighbor to contemplate 'elves' in "Mending Wall." Those words have stayed with me since high school and, like the mischief they are, pop into my head unbidden as this season starts.

It must be no accident that National Poetry Month starts on April 1st, because what are poems but a fine foolery, or a fine frenzy as Theseus would have it, in Act V of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream:

The poet's eye, in a fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;
And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet's pen
Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.

From eye to pen, from earth to heaven and back, the magic pencils of children in InsideOut classrooms bring us forms of things unknown. So as we launch National Poetry Month, I want to share some joyful fooleries that their imaginations have "bodied forth."

I've been posting here recently about the impact of poetry on the lives of iO students, and I have many more stories to tell. InsideOut helps students to be brave and bold in their writing and thinking, and they wrestle with many of life's serious problems through their words. But I believe that one of the most empowering things about the process is the sheer pleasure of discovery through language.

A great example is this poem. Peter Markus posted it, fresh from one of this week's classes at Marcus Garvey Academy, on Facebook.


"What are you?" said the bear.
"I'm a piece of butter," said the butter.
"I'm a human," said Jean Paul.

"So I'm a bear," said the butter.
"No I'm the bear!" said Jean Paul.
"Dummies! I'm the bear!" said the bear.

"Then I'm the butter," said Jean Paul.
"Straight face, man," said the bear.
"I'm ex butter," said the butter.

They died saying "I'm the bear."
"No, I'm the butter."
"I'm the human."

Jean Paul, Grade 5

Pete explains that the poem is a trestina, an abbreviated sestina, a rather complex poetic form of repeated end words whose rules he adapted for his work with younger students. Britist Poet Caroline Davies writes this about sestinas.

Also on Facebook this week was this post from iO writer-in-residence Kristine Uyeda, from a 7th grader at Clippert Academy. "What's wonderful about my job?" she wrote. "Working with Detroit students like Fabiola, a 7th grader, who wrote the following:"


Sing with your lizard, go
on a shopping spree, forgive
the people who hurt you.

Dance with your mom, scream
until you make ends meet.

Pick flowers with a hobo
and cry with a widow. Let
go of your fear.

Fall asleep on a bed of
needles and dream of your dreams.

We at iO are awash in such examples of joy and imagination, and I give thanks for the long-standing, trusting relationships between children and teachers, their Detroit schools and iO's talented writers for making them possible. Please stay tuned for our upcoming events -- iO's annual Get Versed showcase at the Detroit Institute of Arts on May 23, and the new crop of literary magazines, one per school, that are going to press by the end of this month. And if you haven't yet, do 'like' the InsideOut Literary Arts Project Facebook page for more news of these riches.

Finally, I can't resist sharing this video of a group poem Patty and Skye, when they were 4th graders at Golightly, helping to launch our first Get Versed in May 2011.

InsideOut - The Importance of Paper and Pencil from Jeremy Olstyn on Vimeo.

May we all think as big as these children, and dream of our dreams. Happy Poetry Month, everyone!