The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Local slam team IC Speaks finds power in poetry at Brave New Voices

The Iowa City youth poets traveled to San Francisco for the national slam poetry competition.
Lily Smith
Kokoo performs during the Black History Month Slam Poetry event in the IMU on Thursday, February 28, 2019. The event was hosted by The Iowa Edge Student Organization, in collaboration with Black Art; Real Stories.

Iowa City has always been a hub for writers from all walks of life. Whether in attendance at the University of Iowa’s renowned Writer’s Workshop or a participant in the various events hosted by UNESCO City of Literature, Iowa City is a writer’s sanctuary with both well-known and hidden gems alike.

The poetry team of IC Speaks is one such gem. Founded in 2019 by poet Caleb Rainey, IC Speaks is “an inclusive, thriving spoken-word poetry community in Iowa City that empowers youth from all backgrounds to speak their truths,” according to their mission statement

“The slam team is a small portion of the larger programming of IC Speaks,” Rainey said, who also works as the director and head coach of IC Speaks. “We do poetry workshops and create space for young writers in Iowa City throughout the whole year, but in the summer we have a slam team of young poets, competing both statewide and nationally.” 

When they took the national stage in San Francisco on July 20-22 for the slam poetry competition, “Brave New Voices,” IC Speaks reignited the slam poetry scene in Iowa City. 

The team also competed in a statewide championship in Des Moines, which was what inspired the team’s formation in the first place. When asked if they would want to compete statewide, the students were immediately enthused by the idea, Rainey recalled. 

“We only ever got to do poetry competitions against each other,” Rainey said. “Now we get to do it against people we don’t even know.” 

Ruth Thomas is the student ambassador for IC speaks, and has been a member since 2019.

“Everyone has been working really hard,” Thomas said. “These past few weeks we’ve been working on making sure our poems are memorized, working on the tone that you use to perform a piece…Brave New Voices is a really big stage, and we are going into this as one of the smaller groups.”

Thomas shared that she is proud of the students for their hard work, as well as noting that a majority of the team identifies as queer or an ally of the queer community, and come from diverse backgrounds. 

“That’s what some of our poetry will be talking about in San Francisco: pushing against the Iowa experiences that might be oppressive or misunderstanding,” Thomas said. 

As an art form, slam poetry is relatively new, originating in the 1980s and gaining traction in the 2010s. Slam poetry cultivates a poetic space that often centers on the experiences of women, queer individuals, and poets of color. Slam poetry teams continue to dedicate their artistry toward the inclusion of minority or underrepresented groups. 

Hannah Hall, a middle school coordinator and a poet herself, is excited to take IC Speaks to a new level with a national competition. 

“I am looking forward to Brave New Voices,” Hall said. “This is the biggest stage you can get for someone 21 and under.” 

Hall focuses their work on the experiences of young queer and trans folks. In light of increased hostility against the LGBTQ community, they addressed this community in their final comment: 

“If I were to say something to these people, I would just want to say that, we’re out here in the world and see each other, and we support each other. Even though it’s really hard, we always make it through,” Hall said. “We will make it through.” 

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