Mic Check Poetry Fest to host three days of spoken word poetry

Mic Check Poetry Fest is a spoken word poetry festival that will take place this Friday through Sunday and will include both performative and workshopping events. The festival invites everyone ages 13 and up to participate.


Jerod Ringwald

Caleb “The Negro Artist” Rainey poses for a portrait at Bread Garden Market in Iowa City on Thursday, Nov. 4, 2021. Rainey likes to write at Bread Garden Market because of the inspiration he can get from a wide variety of people who walk through. Rainey is hosting Mic Check, a poetry festival in Iowa City, Nov. 5-7.

Olivia Augustine, Arts Reporter

Living in a UNESCO city of literature undoubtedly immerses its residents in the act of reading, but there’s a certain performative element that is sometimes overlooked. Spoken word poetry combines literature and performance to create a well-rounded artful experience – one that is accessible to Iowa City residents this weekend at Iowa City Poetry’s first Mic Check Poetry Fest.

The Mic Check will take place from Nov. 5-7 at assorted times and places around the city, and most events will be available in person or through Zoom. The event has emphasized youth inclusivity of spoken word poetry, so anyone age 13 and up is able to perform.

The festival will also feature several interactive workshops where attendees will have the opportunity to share their work. Lisa Roberts, the director of Iowa City Poetry and co-producer of the festival, said that a sense of community is “written into the DNA” of spoken word poetry.

Roberts said that hearing others’ work can be inspirational and exciting, giving listeners something to think about for their next endeavors in poetry.

“I’ve never been to a spoken word show where I didn’t get a million ideas of what I wanted to write next,” Roberts said.

Roberts said that she and her co-producer for the festival, Caleb “The Negro Artist” Rainey, are committed to making the event a safe space where anyone can engage in spoken word, regardless of experience level. This invitation especially extends to teenagers, who are welcome to attend for free.

Rainey is the director of IC Speaks, a youth program under Iowa City Poetry that strives to make young people’s voices heard. He said that spoken word lives within young people who have something to say and are not yet cynical of the world.

“The fight is in youth, so we want to make sure we create that space, especially when we have youth that come from all different backgrounds and need a space to feel safe and to feel heard,” Rainey said.

Mic Check will give younger artists a chance to be around older ones. Rainey said that this will give younger artists something to aspire to, while older artists can witness the excitement and creativity of the younger ones that can sometimes fade with age.

Rainey is also leading one of the workshops titled “Protest with Poetry.” He said his goal is to inspire attendees of all skill sets to use poetry as a means of talking back to flawed systems. His workshop will be for ages 19+.

While all performative events are inclusive for all ages, many of the workshops are divided into youth programming (13-18) and adult programming (19+).

Rainey said that this is to make sure that the creative spaces are also safe spaces. Additionally, keeping adults and youth separate for certain events keeps the dynamics more comfortable.

Both Rainey and Roberts said they were excited for headliner Javon Johnson to attend Mic Check. Johnson is a world-renowned poet with several published works. He has a doctorate in performative studies, a certificate in gender studies, and a cognate in African American studies.

Rainey said that he hopes people will feel excited and challenged by the spoken word they encounter at the festival.

“One of the most beautiful things about this festival is going to be how authentic the people are in that space, and how excited we are to have that energy and that vibe of being in writing, and in that art,” Rainey said.