Top 3 themes through March: intersectional women’s history, spoken word, and support

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Three timely themes define the newly-updated TRM Events Calendar: Women’s History with an intersectional eye, spoken word, and events focused on providing support — which are fast becoming more relevant as we gradually emerge from the COVID pandemic’s extreme isolation. WOMEN’S HISTORY MONTH • Short films by four young female playwrights are the treat tonight at “Urban Exposure: Young Women in Film, courtesy of Figge Museum’s Urban Exposure Independent Film Project and Azubuike Arts. You can see “Coming Out Straight,” a short film by Paris Davis that depicts a world…

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From Willis & Rainey to MLK Youth Summits: A week filled with timely events

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Sandwiched between the historic attempted insurrection two weeks ago and the coming Presidential Inauguration, today may be one of the most significant Martin Luther King Jr. Days in decades. So it’s only fitting that events honoring the day extend all week and into next week, in many online forms, and also throughout Iowa and Illinois. On the new TRM Calendar (updated today), our top pick for the week is a free viewing of “I Am Not Your Negro.” Showing at anytime through Thursday, this film is a documentary on author…

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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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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 word poetry and page poetry — or at least not any difference beyond how the work is delivered to its intended audience. Literary critic…

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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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“Goddess,” sword, old friend: spoken word (COLUMN)

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Where does spoken word fit in with Black history? The art of spoken word is like an old friend to Black people, people of color, and other marginalized communities. The two have depended on and grown with each other for decades, even centuries. Since the beginning, Africa has had a strong commitment to the oral tradition. Many African countries and tribes didn’t have a written language, but still held on to their history and morals. The art of storytelling was born out of necessity to pass on one generation’s knowledge…

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Spoken word is exploding

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Iowa’s spoken word community is a snowball rolling down a hill, picking up participants and supporters at a self-propelling  pace. From major poetry slams in Des Moines, Iowa City, Quad Cities, Cedar Rapids, and Ames, to other spoken word showcases popping up throughout the state, poetry’s presence is becoming impossible to ignore.  You may find yourself interested in joining this movement but feel bogged down by questions like, “What do I expect from a spoken word event? Am I the right type of person to show up? Am I even…

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