Julie Gammack's Iowa Potluck
Julie Gammack's Iowa Potluck
The Negro Artist...

The Negro Artist...

...Spoken Word with Caleb Rainey
My how time flies! Tomorrow is the last Friday of the month, and that means our Iowa Writers’ Collaborative team gathers via Zoom for our Office Lounge chat. This is a gift for those who are paid subscribers to any of our columns. If you are a paid subscriber, join us: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/83172833586 Noon, central time. It’s a lot of fun to check in on these Iowa writers.

Caleb Rainey performs during the Okoboji Writers’ Retreat, 2022. He returns this fall, September 17-20. for OWR III.

Confession: I love Caleb Rainey, and you might, too, after listening to our conversation recorded during last week’s Monday Zoom lunch.

We open the podcast with Caleb reading his poem: Mr. Johnson.

In a few spoken words, Caleb Rainey takes us into his teenage years, where a history teacher snatched the paper on which Caleb was coloring while listening to the man’s lecture. The public shaming, and double-standard of the action told in barely a minute, lives on hauntingly for listeners.

Caleb teaches children and adults how to weave words into snippets that can go viral with their power.

I watched Caleb capture the attention of a couple hundred folks gathered in a tent during the dawning of his first appearance at the Okoboji Writers’ Retreat last year. All eyes were on the Negro Artis (his self-identity) as their breath synched with his cadence.

In our conversation with Caleb and our Potluck participants, we talk about where Mr. Johnson is today, and how children he currently works with are coping with bullies in the highest reaches of Iowa’s state government.

It’s not easy, he says. But they also give him hope, and he gives them courage to be who they are meant to be.

Caleb Rainey works with students of all ages to tell their stories through the genre called Spoken Word. He closed our one-hour interview with another poem and an assignment for those on the call: what do you see as your 'primary identity’? Is it Black? Mom? Father? Iowan, Educator…what is your primary identity? Does it relate to your job, your family, your economic status? What is your primary identity?

This artists lives in Iowa City, and is finding his footing as a national figure and educator, one college campus and workshop at a time.

Listen to the end of this podcast to hear Caleb perform

During the Okoboji Writerds’ Retreat, Caleb will conduct two workshops as well as perform select spoken word works:

  • Hook, Line, & Sinker: Using Spoken Word Techniques to Capture & Hold an Audience When a poet steps to the microphone, truth on the tip of their tongue and vulnerability in their voice, you listen. But what writing techniques does a performance poet use to hook their audience? From the syntax of the first line to the structure of the whole poem, spoken word artists have found multiple ways to keep the audience’s attention. You may be a master at creating images, a poet that can capture passion and pain, or even a talented storyteller, but if you cannot hook your audience, they won’t stick around long enough for you to prove it. This workshop, designed for poets & storytellers, will focus on the hook by examining the spoken word artists that have found a way—in just a minute—to capture the attention of millions of viewers online. The artists include names such as Neil Hilborn, Javon Johnson, Sabrina Benaim, Blythe Bard, and many others.

  • Protest With Poetry: A Generative Spoken Word Workshop As writers, we are asked to be aware–to observe, analyze, empathize–but perhaps the most important action we can take is using our knowledge to create change. For decades spoken word artists tackle this task with fervor, finding themselves in the front lines of protests and even the front steps of the white house. In times like these we are in need of even more writers taking the brave step into the world of spoken word. In this workshop we will discuss the basic approach to writing a politically charged spoken word poem, analyze contemporary examples, and try our hand at writing our own piece.

Enroll now before it’s too late (fee is refundable until September 1): www.okobojiwritersretreat.com

Our guest this coming Monday, May 1, is Dana James, who is launching project, the Black Iowa Newspaper. Read about it in her column.



The Iowa Writers’ Collaborative members offer a slice of life in Iowa not found elsewhere. If you can pay to subscribe to any of them individually, great. If you are not able to do so at this time, subscribe at no charge. Both are much appreciated.

Laura Belin: Iowa Politics with Laura Belin, Windsor Heights
Doug Burns: The Iowa Mercury, Carroll
Dave Busiek: Dave Busiek on Media, Des Moines
Art Cullen: Art Cullen’s Notebook, Storm Lake
Suzanna de Baca Dispatches from the Heartland, Huxley
Debra Engle: A Whole New World, Madison County
Julie Gammack: Julie Gammack’s Iowa Potluck, Des Moines and Okoboji
Joe Geha: Fern and Joe, Ames
Jody Gifford: Benign Inspiration, West Des Moines
Nik Heftman, The Seven Times, Los Angeles and Iowa
Beth Hoffman: In the Dirt, Lovilla
Dana James: New Black Iowa, Des Moines
Pat Kinney: View from Cedar Valley, Waterloo
Fern Kupfer: Fern and Joe, Ames
Robert Leonard: Deep Midwest: Politics and Culture, Bussey
Tar Macias: Hola Iowa, Iowa
Kurt Meyer, Showing Up, St. Ansgar
Kyle Munson, Kyle Munson’s Main Street, Des Moines
Jane Nguyen, The Asian Iowan, West Des Moines
John Naughton: My Life, in Color, Des Moines
Chuck Offenburger: Iowa Boy Chuck Offenburger, Jefferson and Des Moines
Barry Piatt: Piatt on Politics: Behind the Curtains, Washington, D.C.
Macey Spensley, The Midwest Creative, Davenport and Des Moines
Mary Swander: Mary Swander’s Buggy Land, Kalona
Mary Swander: Mary Swander’s Emerging Voices, Kalona
Cheryl Tevis: Unfinished Business, Boone County
Ed Tibbetts: Along the Mississippi, Davenport
Teresa Zilk: Talking Good, Des Moines

The Iowa Writers Collaborative is also proud to ally with Iowa Capital Dispatch.

Robert Leonard has created the Iowa Podcasters’ Collaborative. If you know of a podcast that might be a fit for this endeavor, please contact him:

Julie Gammack's Iowa Potluck
Julie Gammack's Iowa Potluck
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