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Iowa City’s Mic Check Poetry Festival to return with a slam in November after ‘phenomenal’ 2021 turnout


Mic Check Poetry Festival

Friday-Saturday, Nov. 11-12, various venues


Caleb “The Negro Artist” Rainey and Lisa Roberts ahead of their inaugural Mic Check Poetry Festival, Nov. 5-7, 2021, Iowa City. — Genevieve Trainor/Little Village

Iowa City Poetry’s Mic Check Poetry Festival will return Nov. 11-12 after organizers Caleb “The Negro Artist” Rainey and Lisa Roberts received what Rainey called a “phenomenal showing” of support and enthusiasm last year. The November festival will be only two days this year instead of three, but it will include expanded offerings and an entirely new line up of performers and instructors.

This year’s festival features two headliners: Patricia Smith and Ebony Stewart. Both artists are award-winning interdisciplinary spoken word poets who will perform their work in a Showcase at the Englert Theater, participate in a Q + A, and present two workshops — a free workshop for youth aged 18 and younger and an all-ages workshop for $25 each. A new event for 2022 is SlamOVision, during which an international Slam will take place in UNESCO Cities of Literature throughout the world and will be broadcast Saturday night after the Showcase event and before Mic Check’s final event, the Slam. All events are concentrated in downtown Iowa City with several local businesses and venues hosting events.

Courtesy of Patricia Smith

Friday’s highlights include Poetry In Motion, a multi-genre performance of poets and a live band, and a panel on the intersection and divergence of spoken word poetry and academia featuring Iowa Writers’ Workshop faculty Tracie Morris and alum Steven Willis.

“We are in a moment where the elitism [of poetry] is starting to break down,” Rainey stated.

Roberts added, “There’s a niche in the City of Literature to bring living, breathing, sweating spoken word to the prime stage.”

Rainey said he moved to Iowa City as a spoken word artist, hoping to find connections and be immersed in literature, only to find a dearth of options for the performance poet. He and Roberts agreed that a major catalyst for the work they do is to create the world they once needed. As such, they both hold accessibility as a priority for the festival and will maintain a hybrid format and mostly free programming.

Courtesy of Ebony Stewart

One of their goals in producing the festival is to break barriers for potential poets.

“In the festival itself there are a lot of points of entry,” Roberts said, referencing the many public events, the affordable (and free for youth) programming, and the approachability of spoken word poetry.
Newcomers to the form are encouraged to come, Rainey stated, and in the end, “the humanity of the form becomes the entry point.”

While both Rainey and Roberts believe that poetry is for everyone, they hope to see established poetry lovers at the festival in addition to laymen.

“For folks who have a background with poetry,” Roberts said, “this is revivifying.”

Rainey and Roberts also view themselves as students of the craft. Both work in literature planning and attending workshops frequently, coming to art to learn and to express. This is why they want everyone who is able to participate in the poetry festival.

“This art form makes better people,” Rainey said. “It demands empathy, it demands connection.”

“It demands,” Roberts added, “self-reflection.”

Mic Check Poetry Festival Schedule

Friday

5:30 p.m. Spoken word panel, Prairie Lights
7:30 p.m. Poetry in Motion, The James Theater

Saturday

11 a.m. Youth and Adult Workshops, MERGE and Iowa City Public Library
1:30 p.m. Youth and Adult Workshops, MERGE and Iowa City Public Library
4 p.m. Showcase, Englert Theatre
6 p.m. Q&A with Headliners, Englert Theatre
8 p.m. SlamOVision International, MERGE
9 p.m. Slam, Riverside Theatre


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