From the page to the stage

West High’s spoken word club is expanding and connecting with other writers in the district to form IC Speaks.

It was a crush that brought sixteen year old Caleb Rainey to first perform poetry as a high school student. After his classmate told him she was interested in poets, he got to work in preparation for his high school poetry slam. 

“I performed at that poetry slam, really to impress that girl, but then I realized I loved it. I loved being on the stage. I love feeling listened to love. I loved feeling like there was an allotted time for me to say what I felt. So from then on, I just started writing,” said Rainey. 

Armed with the knowledge of a newfound passion, young Rainey had the unfortunate realization that there were few opportunities for him to get on stage. That poetry slam was the only chance he had to perform and it only took place once a semester. 

I loved being on the stage. I love feeling listened to love. I loved feeling like there was an allotted time for me to say what I felt.”

— Caleb Rainey

Today, Rainey is an author and spoken word artist. As an adult he wants to provide students with the resources he was lacking at their age and create a community of young poets in the district.

The spoken word club, run by Rainey and the Iowa Youth Writing Project (IYWP), started at West two years ago and the Liberty High chapter began last year. This year, it has expanded into a district wide program called IC Speaks. There will be weekly spoken word club meetings at West, Liberty, City and Tate within the school. The West meetings are Monday 4:15 p.m. to 5:15 p.m. in room 107. Then there will be monthly IC Speaks meetings where students from all the schools can collaborate and workshop while performing on stage.

IC Speaks is hoping to create that community in which you have a space to connect with other writers, a space where you get to write whatever you want to write. And then a stage for you to perform when you want to,” said Rainey. 

The stage being the Downtown District’s historical Englert Theatre

“It’s a big deal to be on that stage, so that’s really cool to be able to offer young people that possibility to really work a stage. Not always are we writing in a classroom and then reading, but getting to be on a stage behind the mic,” said Rainey. 

IC Speaks is hoping to create that community in which you have a space to connect with other writers, a space where you get to write whatever you want to write. And then a stage for you to perform when you want to.”

— Caleb Rainey

Rainey had to teach himself how to perform and the skills it took to work a stage. He wants to provide more guidance to IC speaks students than he had.

IYWP is still involved with the program, mostly providing institutional and financial support, while Rainey plans and coordinates classes. 

“Caleb and I had a nice conversation about how writers in a high school environment [can] get very siloed in their own school, and feel there’s nobody else and Iowa City practicing the art that they’re practicing,” said IYWP Director Mallory Hellman. 

IC Speaks is aiming to introduce students into a group of writers. 

Beyond the monthly, district wide workshops, a conference on November 16, 2019, will allow even more young writers to gather and build their community. Rainey says writing programs across the state will be invited to participate in a morning workshop, then there will be a panel discussion featuring other spoken word poets. Finally, there will be a poetry slam at the Englert to show the community what they have been working on.

Writers intimidated by speaking into a mic are still welcome to participate in aspects of the club that fit their comfort level.

“IC speaks is all about you being as involved as you want to be. Our big thing is that there’s comfortability in it, we want you to be who you are,” said Rainey.

Katherine Hirsch ’20 joined the spoken word club last year after being encouraged by creative writing teacher Tom Lindsey. She used to despise poetry, but through writing poetry she discovered ways to improve prose writing and meet people in the Iowa City writing community. 

I want to show people that you can get past it, and that you can still achieve what you want to achieve afterwards, because one of the most traumatic feelings when you’re getting bullied is the sense of loneliness.”

— Katherine Hirsch '20

Hirsch also found a subject she could passionately write about: her experience with bullying. She was severely bullied before she lived in Iowa and she wants to be a role model for those going through that.

I want to show people that you can get past it, and that you can still achieve what you want to achieve afterwards, because one of the most traumatic feelings when you’re getting bullied is the sense of loneliness,” said Hirsch. 

Topics such as these are what Rainey and Hellman hope students can get off their chest though writing and performance, as well as a sense of confidence and belonging in a writing community. 

“There’s power in being able to at least capture your story, your truth,” said Rainey. “Whether it be on the page or on the stage.”

Print Friendly, PDF & Email