Remember Valentine’s Day 2020, when life was still normal, before the world as we knew it ended? Well, the Midwest Writing Center (MWC) and River Music Experience (RME) are here to help you celebrate the holiday of love, 2021 pandemic-style.

MWC is partnering with some of the best poets and writers in the community to offer bespoke poems this month, written for anyone you’d

The writing center is partnering with area poets to pen personalize odes for Valentine’s Day.

like to gift a poem. By participating in this limited-time program, “you’re not only giving unique poems to people you care about, but you’re also supporting local writers and writing/literacy programs in the Quad-Cities,” according to

The personalized poem program will run through February, but orders for Valentine’s Day need to be placed by Feb. 8, MWC executive director Ryan Collins said.

“We’ve done poems on demand at events in the past, but nothing like this with pre-orders, etc.,” he said. “We reached out to a number of poets in the area, or who have lived in the area recently, that we’ve worked with before to see if they’d be interested. The list of available poets represents everyone we heard back from with interest.”

Participating poets include Chris Britton, Emily Kingery, KayLee Chie Kuehl, Farah Marklevits, Nathan McDowell, Beth Roberts, and Philip Styrt (bios for poets available on the MWC website).

The commissioned poems will start at $20 each, and tips are encouraged for poets. To order one for a loved one, visit You can pay using the PayPal link.


Fill out the information form with information about the person and/or occasion the poem is to be written for, including your choice of poet (if you have one; if not, MWC will assign them)

MWC will send you a digital copy of the finished poem; hard copies can be mailed or picked up at the MWC offices in the Rock Island Public

Ryan Collins is executive director of the Midwest Writing Center.

Library downtown branch, 401 19th St.

Please contact Ryan Collins at MWC with any questions or for more info, at 309- 732-7330,

New “Virtual Valentines” from River Music Experience

Do you wish you could serenade your sweetie, but you cannot carry a tune? Or want to tell your Mom  how much you love her after a year of being in quarantine? Or maybe your best friend just needs a little extra joy this year?

The Davenport-based RME has the solution for you! Give the gift of music this holiday with RME’s Virtual Valentines – a love song recorded specifically for you.

You can take your pick of more than 30 song selections, sung by one of our talented local musicians. If you have a special song request, they can do that too, for an extra cost (NOTE: song requests within reason and at artist’s discretion – no opera, “Freebird” or “Stairway to Heaven.”)

The artists will speak with you directly to gather all the intel they need to record and deliver a specially crafted message to your Valentine, including the song selection of your choice.


Video messages will be emailed to you by Feb. 14th, to share with your loved ones at your leisure – because the only thing we want going “viral” this Valentine’s Day is a song and smile, according to

Kate Dale is director of entertainment at River Music Experience.

Kate Dale, RME’s director of entertainment, said this week that the nonprofit last year started a Valentine’s Gram program, sending musicians to sing to the recipient in person – either at their office or home – to serenade him or her on behalf of the buyer.

Last year, RME also sent a representative to film the song, and then gave copies to the couples to keep as a memento, she said, adding about dozen people purchased them.

“We wanted to continue the program this year, but just changed it slightly to be safer for both the artist and recipients due to Covid, and made it 100% virtual,” Dale said.

“Most of the artists we chose for this program had worked with us earlier in the year for our Curbside Concerts program, so we were familiar with their catalog and knew we could have a wide variety of genres and songs for buyers to choose from,” she said.

“These artists have also largely been impacted with lost revenue from gigs this year (and most are choosing not to play out in public due to Covid concerns), and wanted to do more to help them,” Dale said.

All of the fees charged for the Virtual Valentine’s program are being given to these artists (Mo Carter, Alan Sweet, Randy Leasman, Karl Beatty, Lojo Russo) for their time and talents, so the buyers can feel good knowing they are supporting our local musicians directly as well,

Be a hero and choose a local poet or singer to send an artistic Valentine to your loved one.

she noted.

“We hope that we’ll see a wider variety of recipients this year, outside a live-in partner or family member,” Dale said. “For many, it’s been months or even a year since they’ve seen their parent, grandparent, or other loved ones due to the pandemic, so this is a fun and different Valentine that could be sent to those you care about and let them know how much they are missed.

“The artists will speak directly with the buyer to gain a few tidbits or personal notes that the artists can build into the message or song for the recipient – making it personalized and special,” she said.

Customers must place their order by Feb. 10, and RME will turn over the videos to the customers by Valentine’s Day on Feb. 14.

Mo Carter is one of the artists participating in RME’s Virtual Valentines.

Songs selected from the list below will be charged $50 per song at checkout, and any special request songs not listed here and approved by artists will be $100.

To find out more about the artists, their sound and website links can be viewed at

Mo Carter’s Song Selections:

“Something” – Beatles (performed on ukulele)

“Have I Told You Lately” – Van Morrison

“Stand by Me” – Ben King

“Simply the Best” – Tina Turner or Noah Reid’s version

“Just Like Heaven” – The Cure

“Never Say Die” – Dixie Chicks

Alan Sweet is one of the artists participating in Virtual Valentines.

Alan Sweet’s Song Selections:

“Cupid” – Sam Cooke

“Let’s Get It On” – Marvin Gaye

“Stand by Me” – Ben E. King

“I’ll Make Love To You” – Boyz II Men

“Dip You In Chocolate” – Al Sweet

Randy Leasman’s Song Selections:

“Something” – Beatles

“Here There and Everywhere” – Beatles

“We Belong Together” – Richie Valens

“Breaking Me” – Jonny Lang

Randy Leasman is one of the artists participating in Virtual Valentines.

“My Love is Real” – Buddy Guy

Karl Beatty’s Song Selections:

“Love Song” – The Cure

“Never Tear Us Apart” – Inxs

“Been Thinking About You” – Radiohead

“Got You Where I Want You” – Flys

“Wonderwall” – Oasis

“Sex on Fire” – Kings of Leon

Lojo Russo’s Song Selections:

“So Happy Together” — The Turtles

“Never My Love” – The Association

The National Retail Federation expects this year’s Valentine’s Day spending to be less than the record in 2020.

“Can I Have This Dance?” – Anne Murray

“Big Ol’ Goofy World” – John Prine

“Harvest Moon” – Neil Young

“Come To Me” – Goo Goo Dolls

“Marry Me” – Train

“Better When We’re Together” – Jack Johnson

“To Make You Feel My Love” – Adele (Bob Dylan)

“I’m a Believer” – Smash Mouth (Monkees)

National Retail Federation expects lower spending

 Just over half (52 percent) of U.S. adults plan to celebrate Valentine’s Day this year, spending a total of $21.8 billion, according to the annual survey recently released by the National Retail Federation and Prosper Insights & Analytics.

“There is no question the pandemic has disrupted many aspects of Americans’ daily interactions and activities,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay. “However, there remains a special significance around Valentine’s Day, and consumers are committed to celebrating friends and loved ones, even if that means having to alter those traditional holiday celebrations.”

You can have a local performer sing a love song for your sweetie through the River Music Experience.

Nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of consumers celebrating Valentine’s Day this year feel it is important to do so given the current state of the pandemic. It is clear the virus is still front and center, with 74 percent indicating it will directly impact their plans for the holiday.

Those celebrating can still expect the classic candy, cards and flowers, but there is a significant decline in the number of consumers who will plan for an evening out. Less than one-quarter (24 percent) of consumers plan to gift their loved one with an evening out, the lowest in the survey’s history. Even still, 41 percent say they will plan a special dinner or celebration in the comfort of their own home.

Because of these altered plans, it is no surprise that spending on Valentine’s Day gifts this year has dropped, the NRF reported. Those celebrating plan to spend an average $164.76, down $32 on average per person, from a record $196.31 in 2020 right before the pandemic hit.

With consumers planning fewer evenings out, spending on significant others saw the biggest drop this year, down an average of $13 year over year. Further proof of Covid-19’s impact on spending plans is the decrease in spending on teachers, classmates and co-workers, as many continue to social distance.

Consumers say they will spend an average of $10.77 on their children’s classmates and teachers, down from $14.45 last year. Additionally, they plan to spend an average of $8.47 on colleagues, down from $12.96 in 2020.

“Consumers still feel it’s important to spoil their loved ones in light of the pandemic,” Phil Rist, Prosper Insights executive vice president of strategy, said. “This year’s total and average spending figures are near record highs, as the second highest in the survey’s history.”

For more information, visit


Jonathan Turner has been covering the Quad-Cities arts scene for 25 years, first as a reporter with the Dispatch and Rock Island Argus, and then as a reporter with the Quad City Times. Jonathan is also an accomplished actor and musician who has been seen frequently on local theater stages, including the Bucktown Revue and Black Box Theatre.