Story by Mayra Monroy
Spoken word is often labeled as performance poetry, which can potentially discount the raw power of the emotion and lyrical mastery involved.
Frequently confused for slam poetry — albeit, alike in some aspects — spoken word is an outlet in expressive art. Grand Rapids, along with several other cities sprinkled across Michigan and the nation, foster a hot bed for such a craft.
The Diatribe is a West Michigan-based spoken word group that yearned to bring an art that could be enjoyed by all to West Michigan. With an intense form of story telling and smooth lyrical poetry, the members have influenced, not only the community, but others, as well. The group, made up of eight collaborators ranging from hip hop artists to poets, rooted themselves in the scene and continue to branch out their craft.
Marcel Price, known in the spoken word community as Fable, has worked most of his life to express himself in a culture that tries to hide it. A Michigan native, Price realized that spoken word was his calling after years of open mic nights and the realization that spoken word was not your average poetry reading.
“We’re pushing communication away as technology advances, so by going to something as grassroots as a poetry show, it’s just pulling the human interaction close again,” said Price. “I promised myself that I was going to stay with it until I couldn’t.”
With an expanding platform for spoken word, Price has flourished with the support of spectators, friends and the venues in which he performs. Of which includes Stella’s Lounge, home of the Drunken Retort, a show that Price and fellow Diatribe member Gregory Foster lead. Deeply influenced in a grassroots theme, the show was listed in the top 15 must have Grand Rapids experiences in Grand Rapids Magazine. It can be seen Mondays at 8:30 p.m.
Besides the already-popular show in Grand Rapids, Price and friends incorporate music, spoken word and a variety of performance art into their Kalamazoo show, called Put Up or Shut Up, which can be seen at The Mix on Tuesdays at 9 p.m.
With success, comes expansion. And that’s exactly what Price is doing. Soon, lovers of spoken word will be able to see Price and friends in Detroit on Sundays, in Ann Arbor on Wednesdays, and in Lansing on Thursdays along with their set shows in Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo. Price attributes Barfly Ventures, the owners of Stella’s and several other bars in the Grand Rapids area, to helping him and others achieve their dream. Hopcat, a Barfly-owned business, is assisting Price as it opens bars in Detroit, Lansing and Ann Arbor, all of which are Price’s newly added performance locations.
“There’s not a lot of businesses that truly support local artists,” said Price. “The fact that … they actually give back to the artists is pretty amazing.”
And, giving back is no foreign concept to Price.
Price was a key organizer in the first ever ArtPrize exhibit that was deaf- and blind-friendly. Price and members of The Diatribe noticed two important things: Grand Rapids had one of the largest blind and deaf populations in Michigan and one of the largest art competitions that was geared towards those with sight.
“That’s the beauty of words — if you’re blind or deaf, there’s different outlets that you can experience,” says Price.
The exhibit was a performance that went on for the entirety of ArtPrize, on display for those with loss of sight or that were hard of hearing. All of the video work had captioning, all of the written works had braille and anything visual was accompanied with sign language. The Diatribe also performed on the streets during ArtPrize, passing the hat and donating any money made to the Creative Youth Center of Grand Rapids.
Working with youth is another avenue that Price traverses on his way to giving back. Through work with the Grand Rapids Public School system, Price and fellow members of the Diatribe Shawn Moore, Steven Grin and Rachel Gleason, work a 12-week program that teaches kids not only poetry and the world of spoken word, but important life skills, such as public speaking. The group prepares lesson plans regarding family, life and expressing yourself.
“It helps [the kids] realize that everyone goes through the same issues,” Price said. “It reduces bullying in schools [and] violence.”
The group is also trying to expand their program. By working with Kinetic Affect, a Kalamazoo-based spoken word duo, The Diatribe is working towards a grant that would allow them to begin after-school programs and assemblies that would be beneficial to students and the community alike.
“It’s not really about us gaining spotlight; it’s really about showing they need to invest in the youth,” Price said.
Grand Rapids has Price’s heart and that of many spoken word artists who perform in the city, which is why he wants nothing more than to leave a positive impact.
“A lot of people don’t realize that we started in Grand Rapids chasing all of this and Grand Rapids is the reason that we became [who we are],” Price said.
The dreams that he’s chasing? Well, they are leading him on a tour of the Eastern Seaboard in 2015. Starting in May, Price plans on touring in every state from Louisiana to New York. After realizing that he needed to make his name known, Price made his connections and booked his shows. With the support of businesses like GiveTake Clothing Company, a local business that will be investing a percentage of every sale into the tour, Price is ever grateful to the businesses that invest in local artists.
“Spoken word is a lot more predominant than people realize,” Price said. “The more I get into it, the more that I see it’s all over — it’s a constant support system of people.”