Iowa City Poetry al Fresco to bring evening of outdoor poetry readings

The weekend event will feature 32 local artists who will perform in the front porches and parks of the Northside neighborhood.



Maddie Johnston, Arts Reporter

This May Day, residents of the historic Northside neighborhood will open their front porches to the literature lovers of Iowa City to enjoy an evening of outdoor poetry readings from local poets of all ages.

Saturday, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., listeners are invited to join the Iowa City Poetry al Fresco event to hear the works of 32 local artists. Microphones will be used to ensure social distancing, and all participants and audience members will be asked to wear masks.

This year’s poets bring a broad range of ages and writing styles to the table. Iowa City Poetry Advisory Council member David Duer said he’s excited that the event has attracted several emerging poets, like young people from Washington High School and local youth writing program IC Speaks, to perform alongside the event’s more established poets.

Iowa City Poetry Founding Director Lisa Roberts said there will be an eclectic range of writing styles as well. She said attendees can expect to see both spoken-word and page poets, with content that ranges from protest poems, to May Day inspired pieces, to works about International Workers Day — but poets were given no constraints.

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“I think it’s a really beautiful coming together of many different facets of the writer population in our area,” Roberts said. “We’ve got writers of all different ages, backgrounds, experience levels, some who went through the university and went through the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, others who are now teaching at area colleges, others who are working it out on their own and have become really beautiful writers through efforts outside of the academy.”

The 12 sites the event will travel to will each feature two to three poets and last 20 minutes, leaving attendees 10 minutes to transfer to the next location — the longest distance between venues is three blocks. Coordinators from Iowa City Poetry said they’ve done their best to make the event as accessible as they can by providing plenty of space for listeners and easy parking for those driving.

One attractive feature of holding the event in the Northside neighborhood, Duer said, is that viewers can simply walk outside their homes and join the fun.

The evening will begin at Public Space One and end at The Gaslight Village, with stops at homes in the Northside, the Iowa City Friends Meeting House, and Happy Hollow Park. Participants can come and leave as they please.

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“I think that for people who really enjoy hearing live readings of literature and for people who love performing lit[erature], that’s been another hard part of the past year,” Roberts said. “So, this is one way to kind of begin to do that safely — to come back together and celebrate [literature], which is kind of what Iowa City is all about.”

This longing for performance is what inspired spoken word poet Caleb Rainey, “The Negro Artist,” to take part in the event. Rainey is bringing a piece which he described as, “an ode to the stage,” a tribute to the past year he’s been unable to perform his work live. Rainey was named 2020’s best poet/spoken word performer in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City by Little Village’s 2020 Best of the CRANDIC. He will open the event with a reading at the first location alongside poets Hannah Barrett and Mackie Garrett.

Duer and Roberts said they are treating this year’s Iowa City Iowa City Poetry al Fresco as the launch to what will hopefully become an annual event.

More information on the itinerary can be found on the Iowa City Poetry website.