Spoken Word Raises the Volume in Grand Rapids

Spoken Word Poet Rachel Gleason

With National Poetry Month well underway, Grand Rapids-based spoken word poet Rachel Gleason has been busy with a variety of events taking place within the local poetry scene.

Growing up, Gleason developed a love for poetry but hesitated to continue that passion when she was a college student at Grand Valley State University.

“I thought that to do poetry at the college level, you had to be really good, and so I was too intimidated by it,” Gleason said.

Gleason was eventually introduced to spoken word by one of her friends. After putting herself out there to compete in a tournament at Grand Valley and getting second place, Gleason fell in love with the spoken word art form and has now found ways to get involved with it in Grand Rapids.

The Diatribe

The Diatribe introduces GR youth to poetry.
The Diatribe introduces GR youth to poetry.

The Diatribe is a spoken word collective now in its first year as a nonprofit organization. Based in Grand Rapids, The Diatribe consists of local poets G Foster II (aka AutoPilot), Marcel Price (aka Fable the Poet), and Gleason. Committed to uniting youth and raising awareness for art, Gleason and her fellow Diatribe members go into schools and teach kids poetry and life skills.

“Students can relate to us because we don’t look and talk like teachers. We’re just people sharing our stories,” Gleason said. “It’s exciting to work with young people and get their interest in this art form.”

On Thursday, Apr. 26 (tonight), The Diatribe is hosting its first annual “fun’raiser” party at The Waldron Public House. This 21+ event will be a masquerade theme and feature music from local DJs, a cash bar, opportunities for networking, and a video about The Diatribe’s mission.

The Drunken Retort

The Drunken Retort is an open mic night featuring spoken word, music, and comedy that takes place at Stella’s Lounge every Monday. Gleason is now in her third year as a host of this event, along with AutoPilot and Fable.

It’s been enjoyable for her to see how the event has grown and impacted the local poetry scene.

“I started going to The Drunken Retort when it first started, and I just fell in love with that show because I had never seen people get so excited for poetry,” Gleason said. “It was a really cool feeling to see the interest end up springing off and influencing other shows around here.”

Rachel Gleason performs regularly in Grand Rapids.
Rachel Gleason performs regularly in Grand Rapids.

On Monday, Apr. 23, Gleason joined a crowded room full of local poetry enthusiasts to pack out Stella’s Lounge and celebrate The Drunken Retort’s fifth anniversary, which featured poet and musician Joann “Paradigm” Roberts.

For Gleason, this event was a reflection of the support that The Drunken Retort has garnered throughout the last five years.

“It was an incredible night. So many people that have supported the show throughout the years came out and blessed the mic and celebrated with us,” Gleason said. “There is so much talent in this city!”

To learn more about The Drunken Retort, check out its Facebook page
(https://www.facebook.com/TheDrunkenRetort/).

Poetry Slams

Gleason also competes with the Retort United Slam Team. After getting registered through National Poetry Slam Inc. and certifying Stella’s Lounge as a venue a few years ago, The Drunken Retort has put on poetry slams the second Monday of every month.

Twelve individuals are able to compete at each slam and accumulate points, and the top ten people with the most points by the end of each season compete for five spots on the Retort United Slam Team.

Gleason is now in her second year as a member of the team. This year, the team will travel to Chicago for the National Poetry Slam championship tournament. It’ll be the team’s second appearance, with last year being the first time in 14 years that Grand Rapids sent a team to compete at this event.

After taking it all in and getting a feel for the event last year, Gleason and the rest of the team are well underway preparing for this year’s tournament.

“I’m super excited about this team,” Gleason said. “We’re working together, taking poems that we’ve already written and creating collaboration performances. It’s cool to work with other artists on this level, which doesn’t happen much in Grand Rapids.”

Local Poetry Scene

Through her involvement with The Diatribe and The Drunken Retort, Gleason has enjoyed seeing other people get excited about poetry.

“I’ve performed at events before and wondered, ‘Man, do people even want to be here? Are they even listening?’” Gleason said. “Audiences here are very active, which people who come in from all over the country say is rare.”

With Grand Rapids becoming more of a well-known spoken word spot, Gleason is eager to see the community continue to flourish.

“In the last seven years, it’s grown so much. I know of spoken word open mics that are happening almost every night of the week now, which wasn’t the case before,” Gleason said. “When it comes to this community, I think it’s really supportive, and it’s been interesting to see people grow and learn from each other and push each other.”

See Rachel Gleason’s latest work, “Rambo Renegades,” which was released earlier this week.

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