Grand Rapids' first Poet Laureate of color interview

Apr 12, 2017

Fable The Poet, first Grand Rapids Poet Laureate of color
Credit Shafer Photography / Shafer Photography

Grand Rapids has a new poet laureate! The Grand Rapids Public Library Foundation announced today that Marcel Price, better known as Fable the Poet, will be our new ambassador of letters. However, more interesting is that he is the first laureate of color, the first one under age 40 and the first one without a college degree. Yet, his career speaks for itself, as he tours the country regularly with his poems. For WGVU’s Mutually Inclusive, Mariano Avila brings us this extended interview with Fable.

MA:

There’s something childlike about Fable. He comes into the studio wearing red kicks, chinos, and a khaki sweatshirt, sporting his denim and camo backpack. He is notably giddy in anticipation of the announcement that will reveal him as the next poet laureate of Grand Rapids. It’s like there’s a welling up of words that he hasn’t properly organized but is happy to express through laughter. The evening before the announcement is made we meet up at the WGVU studios in downtown Grand Rapids to talk about this honor.

MA: So, we're sitting here in the WGVU studios with Fable the Poet. 

F: Hey!

MA: Congratulations!

F: Thank you very much. 

MA: So tell me a little bit about that process. How did you enter and how did you find out?

F: So, it was really, really, really interesting. The Grand Rapids Public Library announced that Lew Klatt, the current poet laureate, that his position was coming to an end--it's a three-year term. So they put out this press release of "hey, we're going to be accepting applications for the new poet laureate." And a bunch of people that I know online tagged me in it and they were just like "hey, you should apply for this, you should apply to this." And I started really looking into the last poet laureates and who they were and what they've done. And no offense to them because they're incredible, but like, I saw this common thing of them all being Caucasian, academia,  older individuals. And I was just like--I'm like a sensitive individual so I didn't even want to put it out there and apply for it and not get it, because I felt like it would be soul-crushing. And then a few more individuals messaged me and they were like: "Hey, you need to do this." And I was like: "Ah, I don't know, I'm on the fence." And they were like: "No, for real, for us, you need to do it. Because you've been doing stuff for so long and if you got it it would really be uplifting to a lot of us." And I was like: "Alright, cool, I'll do it."

So, I put together this 12-page packet that was samples of my work, my vision (what I would like to accomplish short and long term), it was where I'm at now and how I got where I am at, all the shows that I've done, work that has been published. Turns out that hundreds of people applied for it. There were five judges. They brought it down, I think, to a final twenty. And then they all chose four that really, really, really stuck out to them. And then they deliberated and got it down to a final two and they said that they were stuck. They didn't know what way they would go. And so they needed me to come in and interview for it. From what I've heard it's never been that tight of a race. As well as there's never been an interview process with a final two. So, I was like: "Hey, I like to talk. Let me get in front of these people and show them why I'm so passionate and why I believe that I can do this." And a month later I got an email that was like "hey, we just want to tell you that we selected you to be Grand Rapids new poet laureate." I ran around the house [screams] screaming and running all over the place. [laughs]

MA: So tell me a little bit about, as our new poet laureate, what it's going to take to get Grand Rapids where you need to be in terms of poetry. 

F: The things that I want to do over my term--I really want to bring poetry to the people directly and there's a huge disconnect. Of course, there's a huge disconnect in our city with segregation and just like multiple things. But there's people in East Grand Rapids, or on the West Side, or the South East side that don't know about events on the other side of town, or don't know about a lot of the events that are happening in Grand Rapids. There's poetry shows almost every single night of the week in our city and people don't know that. I can see, yeah [laughs]

MA: I don't know about those. 

F: But a lot of people don't. And I was talking to people about that. And they were just like "Uh, I didn't know that was going on." There's also a huge separation between academia as well as local poets, ground-level poets that area hitting the pavement and getting their work out. So, the first thing that I wanted to do, that I am doing--coming out the gate, swinging and pointing for the fences--is I'm putting together a video. It's a video that interviews all the different hosts all the different poetry events. I'm collaborating with Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. as well as Experience Grand Rapids, as well as Carbon Stories--an incredible video production company--and we've brought this video to life that features all these different spots. Some of these places are all ages, some of these spaces don't have drinking, some of them are 21 and up, 18 and up. But there's something for everybody. And what I'm going to do is spread that out on a huge scale and send this high-quality video out. And have all these people all over Grand Rapids go "wow, we didn't even realize all these things were happening." All these events are almost all free. People love to experience Grand Rapids, but what way to experience Grand Rapids than through the voices of the locals. 

MA: How did you start to write poetry and what got you to become our poet laureate.

F: That is actually a huge reason of why I do everything that I do today and everything runs full circle. I  was not doing good in high school English class. I was failing out of it. And thanks to an incredible educator she would pass me if I turned in different pieces of creative writing every day. So, some of them were short stories, some of them were Hip-hop. And at the end of the year, she was like: "have you ever thought about writing for a living." And I was like: "No, we had a deal. We made this agreement, you knew what it was." But she sent me to a writers' camp at the University of Michigan that was the King Chavez Park, the KCP park. One of the workshops I went to was run by the Ann Arbor Poetry Slam Team. And I didn't realize that they had such a huge scene, but at the time Ann Arbor poetry slam was big. It got me to fall in love with poetry. They gave me the name, the stage-name Fable, that I still use and sticks to this day. And because of them, that is why I do work with the youth. And that's why I try to inspire individuals. In the last  few years, I've been in close to 20 schools, in the next three years we'll be in between 30-50. If I can inspire one, two, three, 20, 40, 50, students to pick up a pen and stick with it, that's a whole generation of young writers that we're going to have coming out of Grand Rapids. And if we can start them young, that's how you create a culture, especially a booming culture--you start them young. And then get these older generations into it, it all trickles out and it spreads. That's really what I've been focused on and how I got into it. 

MA: Can you read a poem for us to kind of kick off your laureate...

F: The best way I describe it is that you're like the mayor of poetry in the city. 

MA: Boom! 

F: [laughs]

MA: Alright, well, let's hear your inaugural address. 

F: Here it is. This is a poem inspired by Kehinde Wiley's painting "Designed for Stained Glass Window with Wildman," that's at the UICA [Urban Institute of Cinematic Arts] right now. 

When staring at this painting, I am reminded,

So many of us was never encouraged to dream.

That a Gold accent can be draped around us

Fresh as an “04 Welcome to the Roc” chain.

That even without being a Diplomat

We are destined to shine.

I see him relaxed, reclined, a co-pilot with his sneakers

Peekin’ out the passenger; Same as any one of us at the time.

Working to cash out, glow out

and now blow out stock speakers; Just tryin’ to shine.

Bass maxed out, Treble turned down, fore we ever knew

We were missing The Sound.

“I roll with a gang of gangs,

Who hang and bang,

Animals Orangutans.”

Chanting:

“Dipset – Dipset - Dipset”

I coulda sworn I knew em – fore I knew didn’t.

Loose 59Fifty, Easter Forces with the pastel patent,

Polo with a tall tee, and a miracle to match it.

For too long I haven’t seen THIS - as Magic.

Is that not Amerikkka’s Grand Finale?

It’s greatest masterpiece?

We play necromancer with the Toe Tagged

Erect Tombs out of Hash Tags,

Use Shirts as memorials.

The irony between Cotton and A

“Free Gucci, Assata, or a R.I.P” T-shirt

Is a metaphor

I haven’t yet mastered.

But here WE are,

In a Museum

on display,

Basking in the work it takes

To bring us to LIFE!

When staring at this painting

I see that I was never encouraged to dream.

That even if this boy is gone

He lives.

At least here;

If not only here,

Flowers all around em, 

While still above ground.

To been seen cuffed,

without shackles.

That is a True Religion.

Still vibrant, and visible.

This picture is:

Javon Going Hard Body to the lane,

On Nike Court, when the surface was as Teal as the Sea’s

We only saw in books.

Aaron’s Pull Up – Every Time,

Net exploding – as we turned firework on the sideline.

Kyle’s Pull Up – Every Time,

As our student section – became a roar,

Before we felt like anything more than prey.

Kyron’s Pull Up- Every Time

Before fist fights landed more than shots on double rims.

This poem is ME

being reminded WE

ARE more than JUST sports Every Time.

This work of Art is:

Jamaal’s Laugh after cookin’ you.

My Brother Keenan’s Voice on some Isley Brothers meet Deangelo type stuff

Darian’s Cross Over in the day of And1 Mixtapes

with a touch of “Hot Sauce” added on with finesse.

Fosters new suit for each event

dripping 90s, like candy paint.

Martels locks blowing in the wind,

Flying down Fulton St on 2 wheels

No need for a destination.

Julius standing on a

Speaker of The Pyramid Scheme

Microphone in hand,

Not a care but a cadence.

Spraying water like a dragon,

Spitting bars like the gospel.

Kyontae – Creatively uncontrollable

Brain untamed, Hair a Flame,

Mane out and dreaming.

This picture is my poems.

This picture is my poems

This picture is…

All we have ever had.

And always wanted.

The Opportunity to be

Ourselves.

Without Judgment

Celebrated for once

For

Being.

Just

Being.