MAY 8, 2002
and educator Terry Blackhawk shares her power, knowledge
By ELAINE YAW
has long understood the power of poetry.
She wrote her first poem (the first one she remembers, anyway) at age
9, rhyming faces and grimaces. She received
her bachelors in literature in 1968; 30 years later came her doctorate
in language arts education. In between she taught English and creative
writing in Detroit public schools for 28 years, received numerous awards
for her poetry, and put together a full-length collection of poems titled
Body & Field and a chapbook titled Trio: Voices
from the Myths.
Impressive. But perhaps more impressive is the literary arts project
she founded called InsideOut the very reason I wanted to have
a dialogue with her.
A few weeks ago I attended a meeting titled Picture This,
one of 13 visioning sessions to gather input from citizens across Michigan
on ways arts and culture enhance the quality of life in communities
and regions. In attendance were a few officials from the local theater
community, museum curators and information officers, a library representative,
an economic development official, chamber of commerce representatives,
small-business owners and an arts and entertainment editor.
We brainstormed. We had to get big ideas down to four or five words.
I could have used a poet to help me.
One of my favorite topics was how art and culture are integral to learning.
(For the full report, go to www.tmrfacilitators.com,
and click on the MCAD Visioning Project logo on the left.) I kept mentioning
artists in the schools, not only as teachers, but artists in residence
poets, painters, musicians. I was thinking about a poet in the
Detroit area who had started something in the schools, but I couldnt
remember the exact details or the poets name.
Then I realized Blackhawk was coming to Lansing for a reading of her
work and works of her father, Ben Bohnhorst. Then I realized she was
THE poet, the one I was thinking about at the meeting.
I e-mailed a local poet some thoughts about the meeting and the need
for more artists in residence at schools. I also mentioned Blackhawks
visit and that I wanted to interview her. My friend replied, Yes!
We should bow down and beg her secrets. So I did.
Here is what Blackhawk said, via e-mail, about why poetry matters and
about her project, InsideOut:
Terry Blackhawk will be a part of the Old Town Poetry Series event
at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 8, at the Creole Gallery, 1218 Turner
Also featured will be poetry by Ben Bohnhorst (Blackhawks
father), read by Marie Bohnhorst and Bob Rentschler.
For more info on Blackhawk, go to www.poets.org, click on Find
a Poet, and enter her name.
An open mike will follow the readings at 8:30 p.m.
Admission is $2.
matters ... to refresh the language, to reclaim it from ad-men and the
language of the market place. It reaches kids directly, brings emotion
into the classroom, touches the inner lives of kids. (An e e cummings
poem begins since feeling is first
Those words have
always stayed with me and I read them in high school!)
I think more teachers are discovering the power of poetry to reach
students. For a long time, it was something teachers shied away from.
Before InsideOut I had become a creative writing teacher in a
Detroit high school and had begun writing myself (a real midlife discovery)
and bringing writers into the school thanks to odd little grants Id
get. A number of writers came through that way.
Then I began putting out a professionally done magazine of kids
writing and art. Id been doing this for several years, in a couple
of schools, when I was approached by a funder who encouraged me to write
a proposal to his foundation.
I ran InsideOut from my classroom (we started in five high schools)
for a couple of years. Thanks to an NEA mentoring program I was fortunate
to hook up with, InsideOut received tremendous organizational guidance.
This was through Writers in the Schools, Houstons writers in the
schools program. I put a lot of the ideas Id had as a teacher
to use. I also had good input from teacher friends in Detroit and through
the Michigan Youth Arts Festival where I led the poetry workshops for
about 10 years. Were now in 23 schools, grades three through 12,
with about half of those high schools.
So its part invented (kind of an organic outgrowth of things
I tried while I was still a classroom teacher) and part modeled after
other programs. Teachers and Writers Collaborative in NYC and Writers
in the Schools in Houston are pioneers in this work. We find our writers
through word of mouth, recommendations from our board and other friends.
U of Ms MFA program and Wayne States writing program have
helped us find people, as has the Creative Writers in Schools program
through ArtServe Michigan.
I began writing as a little girl. My parents gave me a couple
of poetry books early on. Silver Pennies was my favorite.
The first poem I remember writing was when I was 9, in fifth grade,
for an assignment. The teacher didnt believe it was my original
work, probably because I rhymed faces and grimaces.
It was about Halloween. A couple of years ago I ran across a letter
my dad had written to a lifelong friend, probably around the same time
as that poem. I was featured in it this way: Terry has been writing
some verses. Not bad.