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Advice from Detroit Poets: Write What You Know


When Deonte Osayande was a middle-schooler, he said, “I hated poetry. What did I know about gardens in England?”

Then he realized he could use his perspective and experiences to create his own type of verse. Today, Osayande, a professor of English at Wayne County Community College and a Pushcart Prize nominee, visits schools to help students learn how they too can express themselves through poetry.

During a brief onstage performance of a selection of his poems at Grandville Middle School, Osayande geared up for each piece with a posture that looked like he was winding up to pitch a fastball. Which he sort of was, using imagery to paint a concrete picture of the mood he was trying to evoke.

One image he shared: “My niece, like a microwave, always popping like her teeth are made from popcorn.”

Another, which he wrote in honor of a first date: “Otters hold hands when they sleep together so they won’t drift away.”

Detroit-area poet Justin Rogers
Detroit-area poet Justin Rogers

And the alliteration in a piece called “Masks:” “There are black boys and girls being buried before blossoming, broken bodies buried, bullets burrowed beneath their bones…”

Deonte and fellow Detroit-area poets Justin Rogers and Dimonique Boyd visited Grandville recently to share their work and help students create their own.

One student shared an image of her own: “Adults are the ones who love you when you feel like no one else does.”

And another: “Hospitals are cold monsters where you try to pull loved ones out of the jaws of the beast.”

Seventh-grader Cheyenne Vorhees admitted she was skeptical about the poetry workshops. “When I first heard about what was happening today, I thought it would probably be boring,” she said. “But then I was like ‘Oh wait.'”

“It was amazing,” said classmate Kaitlyn Giraud. “I loved it. These poets, their writing is so impactful.”

The poets’ visit was part of KDL Reads, a monthlong series of Kent District Library events aimed at highlighting the book, “Brown Girl Dreaming” by Jacqueline Woodson, a novel written in verse. Grandville KDL Branch youth librarian Kristine Vogelar said the visit was an effort to “shine a light on poetry for teens and the power it has to delve deep into inner emotion.”

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Deonte Osayande performs his poem “Masks”

Justin Rogers performs his poem “Ropes”

Dimonique Boyd performs her poem “Siren Song”

Jacqueline Woodson reading from “Brown Girl Dreaming”

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Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a reporter and copy editor, covering East Grand Rapids, Forest Hills and Northview. She is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio

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