To step into your writer self, read your own story

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I constantly have conversations with people who commend me for being a writer and within the same breath, assure me that they could never be one. Here’s a story about one of those people. A student of mine, we’ll call her June, regularly attends the weekly IC Speaks workshops at her school, and it’s undeniable–nearly contagious–how excited she is about writing and performing.  One week, she brought a friend (or more accurately, dragged her friend) into the workshop by the wrist, amidst groans and protests.  When I asked our visitor…

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Slam poetry in Iowa born 19 years ago

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In the documentary, “Louder Than a Bomb,” a poet takes the stage and says “poets, breathe now.” Though I wasn’t a poet yet when I saw the film, I held my breath and then released it with him. In that electrifying and powerful moment, I breathed life into a poem for the first time. I felt the poetry begin to pulse through me.  That’s how Heather Knowles (aka Heather K, aka Slamama) remembers feeling when she saw “SlamNation,” shortly after founding the Des Moines Poetry Slam, Iowa’s first-ever poetry slam,…

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The marginalization of spoken word, slam poetry

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[et_pb_section fb_built=”1″ _builder_version=”3.22″ _i=”0″ _address=”0″][et_pb_row _builder_version=”3.25″ background_size=”initial” background_position=”top_left” background_repeat=”repeat” _i=”0″ _address=”0.0″][et_pb_column type=”4_4″ _builder_version=”3.25″ custom_padding=”|||” _i=”0″ _address=”0.0.0″ custom_padding__hover=”|||”][et_pb_text _builder_version=”3.27.3″ background_size=”initial” background_position=”top_left” background_repeat=”repeat” hover_enabled=”0″ _i=”0″ _address=”″] Them: “So, what do you do?” Me: “I’m a poet.” Them: “Me too! What kind?” Me: “Spoken word.” Them: “Oh, cool. Like rap and stuff? I write normal poetry.” There it is. The divide. It pops up constantly in conversations, the idea of “normal” poetry (or even worse, “traditional” poetry) that actively excludes spoken word poetry. It’s a common misconception that there’s a difference between spoken…

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A self-made author shares his inner journey

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Since he released his first book, “Look Black Boy,” this spring, Caleb “The Negro Artist” Rainey has been the subject of many articles and interviews. Here, he shares some of his inner-most thoughts and feelings about putting himself out there. I published a book. That sentence is so much bigger than the four words that contain it. Most days I still can’t believe it. Since I was in seventh grade I knew I was meant to be a writer, but being a published author is one of those dreams–and we…

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What’s it like to self-publish a book? Ask Caleb Rainey!

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I published a book. That sentence is so much bigger than the four words that contain it. Most days I still can’t believe it. Since I was in seventh grade I knew I was meant to be a writer, but being a published author is one of those dreams–and we all have them–where you simultaneously feel like you can do it, and it’s always out of reach. For so much of my life, there was always another step I needed to take: finish high school, get a college degree, get…

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Teens “shatter the silence” with spoken word


DES MOINES — In a world where many of us are still ignored, a group of talented high school poets in Des Moines turned to spoken word as a way to shatter the silence. They take the stage in hopes to share the stories they’ve kept secret, or to shed light on those struggles their loved ones face. Influenced by different art forms and cultures, each of them brings a unique style; and through harnessing the power of spoken word, they find their own home and growth. Youth Speaks is…

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Slam poetry: spoken word under pressure

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At the risk of coming across as that obnoxious English lit instructor, or a dinner party show-off, or your annoying know-it-all friend, I’m writing this month about the difference between spoken word and slam poetry.     Spoken word is an art form that started ages ago and has changed throughout the decades. Its primary goal has mostly stayed the same: connect with the audience through your voice and storytelling.     Almost anything fits under this broad umbrella.  This means spoken word artists have the right to tell their…

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New hope for youth through spoken word, poetry

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I first met Aubrey Barnes at an open mic I produced. He performed with power and passion, starting his poem before he even got to the stage. I watched as his words, palpable and poignant, landed in people’s ears. We were captivated. Later, I learned this 27-year-old is a spoken word performer from the Quad Cities, who’s taken the stage with tenacity for the past five years; a producer of shows for local artists; founder of an after-school program; and a teacher. When I had the chance to interview Aubrey…

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