GR Poet Laureate Fights Mental Health Stigma Through Spoken Word

Marcel Price grew up in a home rife with domestic violence and substance abuse. Adding a problematic home environment to his own diagnoses of bipolar, anxiety and depression made him feel “full” and not in a good way.

“I tried to carry a lot for so long and not let it go and it made me into a hard person to deal with for a long time,” he said.

In his junior year of high school, a teacher made him a deal. Turn in a piece of creative writing every day and he could pass his English class. His talent was recognized and Price was sent to a creative writing camp in Ann Arbor, where he discovered spoken-word poetry. Getting it all out through his voice and words made him feel like he could finally speak about what he’d been through and how he felt about it all.

“That’s how I learned to lighten the load and that’s how so many other people can as well,” he said.

The 28-year-old Price is known as Fable the Poet in his adopted hometown of Grand Rapids. His work deals heavily with breaking through the stigma that surrounds mental health. He’s a force in the local poetry scene and his work was recently acknowledged by being named the city’s Poet Laureate. The role serves as a poetry ambassador for Grand Rapidians, engaging a diverse audience in projects and programs supporting poetry in the community.

The Unpacking Tour will feature Grand Rapids-based performers KFG and Fable the Poet.

That’s essentially Price’s life work. He surrounds himself with and encourages and collaborates with local artists. He hosts and participates in poetry slams every second Monday at Stella’s Lounge as part of The Drunken Retort. He’s part of The Diatribe, a collective of spoken word poets on a mission to help local youth find their own voices. He’s also about to take his message on the road through The Unpacking Tour, which he’ll headline with fellow local poet KFG.

“The whole idea behind The Unpacking Tour is to get individuals to unpack and use poetry as a catalyst to do so,” he said.

The performances on the tour will include interactive components in which audience members can feel free to talk about their own mental health or other potentially difficult topics such as gender identity, race, substance abuse and more.

Race is another central theme in Price’s work as he explores his bi-racial heritage and the disparities that communities of color face, which includes access to mental health care. He said stigma surrounding mental health care also persists, with many in the community advocating prayer or adopting a stronger resolve or “bootstraps” mentality to power through mental health crises. Another commonality he sees is people wanting to downplay the importance of addressing mental health issues because there are too many other pressing issues the community is trying to tackle.

“But how can we fight the larger issues if we aren’t taking care of our strongest weapons – our minds,” he asked, in a blog post for Mental Health America, an organization he partners with.

“We’re doing ourselves a disservice not taking care of ourselves and focusing on other things,” he said. “You can’t build a house on a weak foundation.”

Ultimately, Price hopes he is creating fertile ground for others to bloom through poetry or other art forms such as music, design, rap or writing – whatever works to delve deeper into their own struggles and become stronger through getting it out. Nobody should feel ashamed or broken about their mental health or any other issue they’re facing, he explained, and he believes lives can be saved by simply talking about it.

While he loves sharing his own work, watching a new performer he’s encouraged at Stella’s Lounge or seeing a young voice emerge through the Diatribe is the greatest reward imaginable.

“That feels so good,” he said.

Price said “Aim at Houdini” is his favorite of all the poems he’s written. It’s about his grandfather’s health struggles late in life and Price’s painful memories surrounding his death. In celebration of Minority Mental Health Month (July), students from Kendall College of Art & Design recently brought it to life with animation. Watch the powerful result here:


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Photos courtesy of Marcel Price

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