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Poetry Heals hosts life-saving writing workshops for Inside Out Youth Services youths 

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click to enlarge Three Inside Out youths collaborated on this drawing and its accompanying poem, "The Three P's." - COURTESY POETRY HEALS
  • Courtesy Poetry Heals
  • Three Inside Out youths collaborated on this drawing and its accompanying poem, "The Three P's."

It’s 3:30 p.m. on a Friday, and an energy of excitement buzzes throughout Inside Out Youth Services. This 30-year-old safe haven for LGBTQ teens and young adults has expanded both its location and its programming in recent years, continuing to serve youths everywhere on the spectrum of sexual and gender identity.

Around this time on school days, the center’s comfy couches and kitchenette fill up like a not-so-secret clubhouse. But you won’t find a sign saying “No Girls/Boys/People Allowed” on the door. Everyone is welcome, and it shows. It’s a home for the outcasts, the nerds, the kids that remind me of who my friends and I were back in high school — only smarter and more worldly and more creative than we ever were.

As teens with dyed undercut hairdos, superhero T-shirts and homework-stuffed backpacks file into the organization’s headquarters past colorful walls and smiling volunteers, those who are already settled in the main room hop up to hug their friends like they haven’t seen them in years, even if they had class together just this morning.

The chatter spills in/to the adjacent conference room where two adults, Molly Wingate and Ann Davenport, set out healthy snacks, loose-leaf paper and pens. They’re with Poetry Heals, an organization founded by Wingate, promoting therapeutic poetry.

Poetry Heals, in addition to working with veterans and the homeless, has hosted poetry workshops at IOYS since 2015. In the last two years, these workshops have begun occurring monthly. But for 12 recent weeks, Poetry Heals experimented with offering workshops weekly, to the delight of many IOYS youths.

“It’s been helpful. I’m pretty sure not just for me, but for a lot of people,” says David, one of the participants. “It was nice being able to come in on Fridays after school, or just after a rough day, and just being able to write.”
LGBTQ youths are more vulnerable to mental health problems than their peers, and face internal struggles about gender and sexuality along with external discrimination and isolation — all while dealing with the ups and downs of adolescence. Wingate has noticed a positive difference in those who regularly participate in Poetry Heals because it allows them to work through their emotions while feeling like they’re part of a group.

“Some people are just really scared of poetry because, ‘Oh, God, writing! I’m no good at writing!’ But poetry really is a challenge to a ton of people but it’s also a hobby,” says Skye, another participant. “… We don’t have a lot of outlets right now … so, you know, having an opportunity for the creative kids to have that outlet is really beneficial to them.”

Today, six teens take seats around the table in the small conference room, chatting about video games and school while they get settled in. All but one, a recent transplant to Colorado Springs, are regulars, and they catch up with the adult facilitators casually and enthusiastically. The session begins with a round of Mad Libs — a kind of fill-in-the-blank story activity — to loosen up some creative muscles, then Wingate offers a free-writing prompt: “Why do you write?”

I’m curious, too. What is it that drives them to put pen to paper? Without sharing personal details (all Poetry Heals sessions are confidential), I can share that some write to address their trauma or their fears. Some write for escapism. Some write because they don’t know how else to express themselves. It’s beautiful to watch these kids tap into their reasons for being in this room when they could be out socializing. Writing fills a void for them.

Specific Poetry Heals exercises like the Mad Libs and this free-form writing exercise vary from session to session — prompts and activities engage participants on individual and group levels, encouraging them to tap into their own thoughts and ideas as well as collaborate on works with other poets.

One of the writers, North, says that “being with everyone” is the best part of Poetry Heals, and David points to the group poems as his favorite exercises. It is perhaps the sense of community, as much as the poetry, that helps to heal their wounds.

We at the Indy want to share the works of these youths periodically. Whether whimsical, serious, painful or silly, these are the voices of a group of kids who need to express themselves — and who need the world to listen.

“Fortune”
A group poem by Inside Out Youth Services youth writers

We’re not fortune tellers,
We’re fortune writers.
Writing destiny with our frenemy
That’s complicated
We write things into destiny
Rather than talking about ending,
We write endlessly.
The piano clicks
The birds flick
Until the clock makes its final tick

Now we are running out of time
And running out of rhymes

“Ruminating”
By David

Religion is ridiculous
So maybe I’ll get rid of it.
People call me atheist
I almost hit them in the chest.
People call me Satanic
So I make them flee in panic.
I once knew a Mormon
Who now resides in prison.
I do regret not cutting him
But I’d be arrested with a whim.
So now that I’ve arrested them
My anger can’t quite get to him.
In court: 6 cases of cruel neglect.
He supposedly took all of it.
My aunt however just can’t see it
The evidence is bigger than she meant.
She chooses to fight destiny.
I consider her ancient history.
My cousins need to get over themselves.
They make me create my many selves.
I was forced to clean
Until it was pristine.
I was unfed.
I had no bed.
My soul has died.
My mom has cried.

“The Three P’s”
By Rylee

  There are many
animals in this world, but there is one animal who is the only one.
  They are called a Purple Pan Peacock.
  That’s right, a purple pansexual peacock.
  Like their name implies, they’re a purple peacock with
their tail feathers in the colors of the pansexual flag.
  A very majestic animal, very rare, too.
  You only get to see them if you support the LGBTQ+
community. Those who do not support will be cursed by
the Purple Pan Peacock.

Editor's note: These poems were edited to remove the writers' last names.

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