Please Support InsideOut Literary Arts Project [A letter from Peter Markus]

Posted by @ 2:49 pm on August 10th, 2009

The Calm, by Timothy Pace

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:

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 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,


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