Iowa City Poetry launches ‘Two Voices’ interview series

Iowa City Poetry launched a new interview series in January discussing the craft of poetry and themes of race and injustice.

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Morgan Ungs, Arts Reporter


When Caleb “The Negro Artist” Rainey first came to the University of Iowa, he said he felt overwhelmed trying to find his voice as a Black writer in a predominately white literary community. The poet told this story in the very first episode of a newly launched interview series by Iowa City Poetry.

The series, called “Two Voices, launched on Jan. 20 with the goal of giving everyone in the community a free opportunity to listen to the series, in which poets — some local, some from around the country — meet virtually to discuss the craft of writing in today’s society.

Host KayLee Chie Kuehl, a UI student and writer, leads each discussion, speaking with poets about their creative processes and inspirations. Her first conversation was with two local poets and spoken word artists, Caleb “The Negro Artist” Rainey and Steven Willis.

“Everyone can be a writer, and everyone has that in them, we want to recognize and lift all voices,” Rainey said. “ICP is moving in a direction to be inclusive and all encompassing.”

Iowa City Poetry Founder Lisa Roberts said her mission for the organization is to give everyone a chance to be part of the Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature’s culture, especially since costs for writing-specific programs can be expensive.

“Many writers in the community may not have the financial resources or time to take a workshop at the university,” she said.

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Her goal is to create a way for everyone to access literary connections in the community, Roberts said.

Kuehl said the series itself is dedicated to all who love poetry. She said Iowa City Poetry will use the series as a platform to amplify the voices of poets and how those voices shape society.

“The series creates a space that emphasizes the way poets influence us on the societal and cultural level,” she said.

The series’ next interview will feature Virginia-based poet and Professor Kiki Petrosino during the second week of March, although the exact date has yet to be announced.

Petrosino’s poetry, in particular her fourth book, White Blood, explores both her Black and Italian family heritages and how they intersect historically with slavery and discrimination. She also focuses on themes of history, loss, and injustice.

Roberts said she is enthusiastic about hosting Petrosino and thinks the poet speaks on several themes relevant in today’s society.

“Looking at the moment where we are in our nation’s history, we’re at this point of transformation — trying to take account and responsibility for our past and to remake our country,” Roberts said. “And we look at poets like Kiki to see how all of us can do that.”

Kuehl and Rainey both said they were grateful for Iowa City Poetry and all of the work Roberts has done to create a space for the craft.

“It’s important to have ICP to connect all of these resources and make them accessible to those that may not know how to access them,” Kuehl said. “It’s emphasizing to everyone what a large part of Iowa City is about –– the creation of literature, art, and the continuation of the arts.”

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