When Lisa Roberts moved to Iowa City in 2011, she couldn’t wait to immerse herself into the rich culture of literature.
“I was thrilled to join such an active literary community and began trawling the internet for local poetry readings and workshops and publications,” she says.
“What I found was that the poetry news for our area was flung across hundreds of different web sites and Facebook pages. Every day I discovered a new source for information, but often after an important event had already occurred. I thought ‘someone should collect all of this stuff onto one website.’ And two years later, that someone is me.”
In March, Roberts launched IowaCityPoetry.com, a one-stop site for poetry happenings in the corridor.
“There is a packed calendar of events and the most complete list of poetry publications and publishers in Eastern Iowa,” she says.
Body copy ragged right: Working on the project for the last few months, Roberts says, she has been amazed to learn “how incredibly rich and varied the poetry scene is.”
Iowa City Poetry features everything from readings, performances and open mike sessions, to contests, classes and talks.
“In the last two years, I’ve seen how community members want to gain entrance to University readings and workshops, and how University faculty and students want to reach out beyond the campus,” she says. “Poetry lovers at the Senior Center want to nurture the talents of young people, and creative kids long for adult mentors. Iowa City Poetry is a place where such diverse populations can meet virtually, find out about each other, and then meet face-to-face to build new communities based on a shared love of poems.”
Roberts serves as editor of the website. She collects information from bookstores, University of Iowa, school and small groups and organizations’ websites and Facebook pages each week to build a comprehensive list everything happening in the local poetry scene.
“My goal is to create links,” she says. “I know things are happening that I don’t have access to and I want to be radically inclusive. If the event has anything to do with poetry it can go on the site.”
While she initially planned to just include Iowa City events, the more she dug Roberts realized that she should expand her coverage area to that within about an hour’s drive from Iowa City. Currently about 30 percent of her calendar listings are submissions, while the other 70 percent are what Roberts calls “harvested” from other online sources.
“This is not a shallow pond,” Roberts says. “This is a deep well that is constantly refreshed and only covers poetry news but covers everything related to that. And it’s a bridge to discover new events and build a stronger community based on a shared love of poetry.
“It’s been a real pleasure to write to let people know what’s happening,” she says. “I love to help grow the audience for the sharp, creative people who are putting on lovely programs. And it’s also been interesting to learn the rhythms of the poetry world.” Roberts says fall is particularly exciting as all the new lists are released.
The site is for both poets and those who may not write, but still love poetry, she says.
“It’s a great introduction to all our area has to offer in poetry,” says Roberts. “It’s exactly what I would have liked to have found when I first moved here two years ago.”
Long-time residents will also find the site useful, she says.
“By glancing at the full calendar, they can see what’s happening in poetry this month, this week, or today, and then plan their schedules accordingly. Some may even use the site to discover poetry happenings outside of their usual routine.”
A former English lecturer who taught literature and composition at colleges for 18 years — primarily at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln— Roberts shifted her career several years ago.
“I made a complete career change from university instructor and literary critic, to immersing myself in the wider poetry community. But I hadn’t written a poem in 22 years. I’d gotten far away from what first got me reading and writing.”
Her poems, which Roberts dedicates more and more time to writing these days, have been featured in various publications, including Plainsongs, Poetry in Public, The Daily Palette, and The Untidy Season: An Anthology of Nebraska Women Poets.
On top of working as the editor of Iowa City Poetry, Roberts now teaches creative writing to kids and teens through The Iowa Youth Writing Project. She also researches and writes about the history of Iowa City’s Little Magazines in a role as guest curator for the University of Iowa’s Special Collections and the Digital Studio for the Public Humanities.
While she is keeping busy with the site as is, Roberts says she has big plans for Iowa City Poetry.“Long-term plans for Iowa City Poetry include creating a dedicated kids and teens page, publishing an online magazine of essays about the rich history and vibrant present of poetry in our area, hosting free generative writing workshops, and sponsoring a lecture series called Fave Raves, where diverse people from the university and the community—including kids and teens—talk about their favorite poems.”