Bringing poetry to the people
New Grand Rapids poet laureate seeks to connect with public using words
Growing up, Marcel “Fable” Price, Grand Rapids’ newly appointed poet laureate, never saw himself as a writer. In fact, he “was originally failing out of high school English class” when his teacher gave him the opportunity to turn in pieces of creative writing to earn a passing grade.
“So, I was turning in all these pieces of creative writing, … and at the end of the year, she was like, ‘Hey, have you ever thought about writing for a living?’” Price said. “And I was like, uh, no.”
While Price may have doubted his capabilities as a writer, his teacher saw his potential and sent him to a writing camp where he attended a workshop run by the poetry slam team and fell in love with the craft.
Now, Price is a prolific author and performer who is involved in several poetry-based programs in the Grand Rapids area. He is a member of The Diatribe, a group of spoken-word performers; an official partner of Mental Health America; and the author of the 2016 chapbook “Adrift in a Sea of M&Ms.”
Price’s poetry is directly inspired by his own experiences and struggles. In it, he focuses on race and identity, sexual abuse, and mental illness, among other topics. One of his most recent projects was a YouTube video of his spoken-word poem “God Bless America,” which he created for Mental Health Awareness month this past May.
“I grew up in a home rooted in substance abuse as well as domestic violence, and it has a lot of impact on my writing and the type of individual who I was and who I am now,” he said. “A lot of what I write is about my experiences and the things that I see around me, … and I write (my poems) so when other people see these things or experience these things themselves that they don’t feel alone and they can navigate through it and are encouraged to talk about it as well.”
Although some of his topics inherently target specific demographics (people of color, individuals struggling with mental illness), Price thinks his poetry has a broader appeal as a resource for learning about the individuals who struggle with the issues he describes.
“In my opinion, (my book) is not catered towards any one demographic or any individual because when you listen to other people’s experiences, you can learn about them yourself,” he said.
Price officially began his three-year term as the Grand Rapids poet laureate in April. In this position, he is responsible for developing poetry-based programming and projects for the Grand Rapids community. Two of his specific goals are “to get artists traveling outside of Michigan” and “to utilize all of (Grand Rapid’s) resources to really get poetry to the masses.”
“This is a super big deal for me,” Price said. “It’s even more of an honor because I’m the first person of color in the city’s history to hold this title. I’m the first person under the age of 40 to hold this title. I’m the first person without a college degree to hold this title.
So not only is it important, it’s important to me that I do a phenomenal job and that I take leaps and bounds farther than other people have and I reach so many more people than other people have.”
The poet laureate program is run by the Grand Rapids Public Library and is funded in perpetuity through an endowment from the now-defunct Dyer-Ives Foundation. The endowment of $160,000, which is also used to fund the Dyer-Ives Foundation Annual Kent County Poetry Competition, is administered by the Grand Rapids Public Library Foundation. Prior to 2012, the poet laureate program was overseen by the Arts Council of Greater Grand Rapids, which closed the same year.
The paid poet laureate position was first filled by Linda Nemec Foster in 2003. Between Foster and Price, there have been four other poet laureates, including Grand Valley State University’s own Patricia Clark, a professor in the writing department.
Although a number of accomplished poets applied for the current poet laureate term, Price’s talent, passion and established commitment to promoting poetry in the community stood out to the selection committee.
“We had a number of really qualified people that we were looking at,” said Julie Tabberer, coordinator of the poet laureate program and chair of the selection committee. “There’s a lot of really talented, really passionate and thoughtful poets in our city. And as they were talking about all of them, we kept on coming back to Marcel and saying, wow, he’s already doing all of the work that a poet laureate would do. It’s really clear that poetry is his life.”
Given his background, Price is also a refreshing break from the traditional poet laureate pick. The selection committee viewed Price’s appointment as an opportunity to engage a broader segment of the West Michigan population that had previously been underrepresented by past poet laureates.
“I really respect and appreciate what all of the poet laureates have done, but they have all (been) … one particular kind of poet, the one that is more academic,” Tabberer said. “But that’s not all that’s out there, so it’s good to be able to showcase and highlight all of the different types of poetry.”
To learn more about poetry in Grand Rapids, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lzaDc6X6LnI&feature=youtu.be.