The Daily Iowan

‘Drop the Mic’ leaves an echo in Sanctuary Pub’s Red Room

Seasoned and amateur poets take the stage for a night of artful expression

Miss+Iowa+Mikayla+Hughes-Shaw+plays+the+violin+during+The+Hook%E2%80%99s+Drop+The+Mic+event+on+September+19%2C+2018.+The+event+featured+live+music%2C+stand+up+comedy%2C+and+live+poetry+readings.
Miss Iowa Mikayla Hughes-Shaw plays the violin during The Hook’s Drop The Mic event on September 19, 2018. The event featured live music, stand up comedy, and live poetry readings.

Miss Iowa Mikayla Hughes-Shaw plays the violin during The Hook’s Drop The Mic event on September 19, 2018. The event featured live music, stand up comedy, and live poetry readings.

Wyatt Dlouhy

Wyatt Dlouhy

Miss Iowa Mikayla Hughes-Shaw plays the violin during The Hook’s Drop The Mic event on September 19, 2018. The event featured live music, stand up comedy, and live poetry readings.

Philip Runia, Arts Reporter

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A thin, horizontal mirror greets poets at eye-level with the image of their nerves, or confidence, before baring their soulful words on the stage of the Red Room at the Sanctuary, 405 S. Gilbert St. The event is “Drop the Mic,” an opportunity for new poets to present their work and for featured poets and musicians to showcase their own.

Various knickknacks fill the shelves around the space, along with eclectic paintings and still more mirrors, echoing the nostalgic and reflective atmosphere. It’s Wednesday, Hump day, but here the spoken word provides an outlet for artists to create, express, and overcome. The lineup?

Host: Caleb “The Negro Artist” Rainey, 23

Rainey’s search for strong artists culminates into syncopated mic drops every third Wednesday of the month. The place varies, but it must always be cozy and filled with good food, drinks, and most importantly, people. To make everyone comfortable, Rainey goes first after giving a quick pep talk.

“To kill the dead air, we’ll rub our hands together,” Rainey said. “We’re here with you, it’s OK, take your time, we’re listening.”

Rainey’s hand and optical orchestrations emphasized his words as he performed a powerful poem in commentary of power play, race, and class titled “Experiential Learning: A poem to Mr. Johnson.”

Music: Miss Iowa Mikhayla Hughes-Shaw, 21

All eyes were on Hughes-Shaw as she stepped gracefully to the stage, violin in hand. Fresh off her competition for the Miss America crown, she was dressed in jeans but still in the habit of heels. She radiated confidence, approachability, and pleasure in her art as she touched her bow to her violin and began her deft movements over the strings, producing a vibrato you can only achieve from years of practice. Half-improvising, she provided semi-tinkered versions of melodies to tracks played aloud. Thoroughly enjoying her art, eyes and infrequent smiles played on her face as she stole glances at audience members, as well as her boyfriend, who was watching in the crowd. Going from Drake’s “Hotline Bling” to Elvis’ “Can’t Help Falling In Love,” Hughes-Shaw showed her versatility in musicianship, causing the audience to sway and swoon themselves.

Open Mic Performer 1: Jana Bondurant, 20

After wrestling the mic down to a suitable height, Bondurant tentatively began her poem. Delivering a heartfelt, efficiently trembling performance about loneliness and abandonment, Bondurant left the room tingling and teary-eyed. She said poetry is therapeutic, a way to sort out her thoughts. She is a student working toward a bachelor’s degree from Arizona State University online. In the meantime, she enjoys Iowa City.

Open Mic Performer 2: Linda Muller, 51

Muller exhibited a seasoned confidence as she stepped up to the mic. After gaining everyone’s attention, she began to give a poetic elegy titled “An American Wake.” A great trace of lineage and an emphatic “I am,” the poem produced applause that trailed Muller back to her seat. Muller is the founder of the Iowa City Poetry Slam, which meets the last Monday of every month on the third floor of the Clinton Street Social Club. The next meeting will be Sept. 24.

Featured Poet 1: Ralph Washington, 27

In between brief pauses and secret smiles, Washington playfully recited various selections of his work. Pulling giggles and cackles from the crowd, innuendos flowed from his mouth as he threw pointed glances at the crowd.

Comedic poems titled “BBC” and “Adam’s Apple” gave alternative meaning to the space, the Red Room, while simultaneously dealing with such serious issues as sexuality, race, and sexual racism.

“Do you ever write messy sh*t and think, what am I trying to say to myself?” Washington said.

His poetry is all over the place, he said. He doesn’t limit himself to one genre but gives himself full dimension as a black, gay man while using his poetry as therapy.

Featured Poet 2: Darius Stewart, 38

For Stewart, the need to speak on personal traumas that come out of addiction drives his poetry. Poems and an essay on topics from domestic abuse and alcoholism to his dog provided a range of emotions for Stewart onstage and crowd members.

“It’s a slippery slope that until you’re in the thick of it, you don’t know how life-changing the event is,” said Stewart. Stewart is an M.F.A. graduate student at the University of Iowa.

Open Mic Performer 3: Chris Arias, 19

Nervous but surprisingly aggressive, Arias performed a poem for the first time outside of school, titled “The Reason.” Transitioning from timidity to passion, Arias made the crowd erupt after the poem was complete. Arias is a sophomore at Coe College, and he will be 20 on Monday. Arias said he hopes to perform in public spaces more often.

After the show finished, everyone wandered around and greeted each other, congratulating all on their art and their bravery.

“You’ve shown love, you’ve felt things, you’ve listened, and that’s what matters here,” said Rainey in admiration of the intimate crowd. The positivity was palpable.

The next opportunity to experience “Drop the Mic” will be on Oct. 17.

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