Advice from Detroit Poets: Write What You Know

Detroit-area poet Deonte Osayande works with a Grandville Middle student

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”

Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema 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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