With “two rock-star Black women” leading the line-up, Iowa City’s Mic Check Poetry Fest returns this year with two days of spoken word poetry immersion that can also be enjoyed virtually from anywhere.
  Those rock-stars of poetry, says co-founder Caleb Rainey, are  Patricia Smith and Ebony Stewart. Smith is Pulitzer Prize finalist praised as “a testament to the power of words to change lives,” and Stewart is an award-winning author, poet and mental health advocate from Texas. They’ll perform early Saturday evening as part of a festival that includes nine events overall, each of which can be attended a la carte or as part of a full festival pass.
  “This is a diverse lineup all around: in age, identities both racial and queer, and it’s a festival where everyone can find themselves in it for sure,” says poet Caleb Rainey, co-founder of the festival with Lisa Roberts. “There is some part of their identity, if not multiple versions of their identity,  being represented, which I think is rare.”
  The weekend also includes seven Midwestern poets in a night of “Poetry in Motion” with musical accompaniment, and panels with Smith, Stewart, University of Iowa Professor Tracie Morris, and Steven Willis, who appeared at last year’s debut Mic Check Poetry Fest. The festival closes Saturday night with two poetry slams featuring youth from 11 international cities, and members of IC Speaks.
  Mic Check is built to provide something for writers at every stage of experience, too, Rainey says.
  “There are spaces for the new writers, the people who’ve almost never touched spoken word or poetry, and then there is space for those who have really honed their craft, to lean in and find inspiration from those that are at the top of their game.”
    Here are all nine events:
  • 5:30 p.m. Friday: Morris and Willis talk about the history, meaning and growth of spoken word and slam poetry in “Spoken Word In the Academy Panel” at Prairie Lights, or online. This event is free, and pre-registration is required only for those attending virtually.
  • 7:30-9:30 p.m. Friday: Spoken word melds with jazz music in this first presentation of “Poetry in Motion” in two years. Hear from seven Midwestern poets including Aubrey Barnes of the Quad Cities;  festival co-founder Roberts of Iowa City; Matthew Marroquin of Sioux City;  Samm Yu and Champagne Harrington of Des Moines; Glenn Freeman of Mount Vernon, Ia.; and Glen Waters of Iowa City. Admission is $15, and you can attend in person at the James Theatre in Iowa City, or virtually; register for “Poetry in Motion” here.
caleb rainey main photo

Caleb Rainey, co-founder of Mic Check Poetry Fest 2022, happening Nov. 11 and 12 in Iowa City and also available virtually.

  • 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m., and 1:30-3 p.m. Saturday: Smith and Stewart will each present a workshop for youth, and one for adults. Smith’s two sessions are both about “All the Extraordinary Ways to Not Be Ordinary.” Register for her adult session at 11 a.m. here, and her youth session at 1:30 p.m. here. Stewart shares a youth workshop about “Writers Be Blockin’ ” at 11 a.m., and offers “Iterations of ofthe Truth” for adults at 1:30 p.m. Pre-registration is required for the free youth sessions.
  • 4-6 p.m. Saturday: Smith and Stewart take the stage for a poetry fest showcase at the Englert. Register here for virtual attendance on the Englert Theatre website, or in-person attendance at the Englert; admission is $18 for adults and free for teens.
  • 8-8:45 p.m. Saturday: This free “Slam-O-Vision International” event features 11 poets from throughout the world in a virtual slam poet competition. Watch in person or online. The night features poets from South Korea, Scotland, Germany, Australia, England, Canada, Iceland; Estonia, the Netherlands, and the United States.
  • 9 p.m. Saturday: The weekend wraps with the Mic Check Festival Poetry Slam, where festival participants take the stage at the Riverside Theatre. This is the only event available only in person; admission is $8 for adults and free for teens.
  For a full festival pass, which gets you in to all nine events, click here. A reminder admission for teens is free.

Explore more about the Mic Check Poetry Fest, featuring Patricia Smith , Ebony Stewart, Caleb Rainey, Steven Willis, Tracie Morris and more