By Rachael Ocampo
Stephen Gren learned long ago that life would never be a bed of roses. Now, at age 22, the Grand Rapids artist has a lot to say about his experiences, and it’s hard not to listen. Spending five minutes around Stephen Gren catapults his listeners into a world of spoken word poetry, for better or for worse, and certainly with no turning back.
Gren began writing poetry a little over a year and a half ago.
“My whole coming into poetry is actually a sad story,” he reminisces. Fueled by the heartache from a recent breakup, accompanied by the sudden deaths of two close family members, Gren was thrown into a world of grief with little transition.
To help himself cope, he turned to the pen and page. What followed was a quick transformation from a “normal guy” to an up-and-coming artist in the Grand Rapids area.
His first poem, Broken Hearts and Love Letters, talks of his first love that was started and then never finished.
Let me tell you about this love that I have. See, it’s too far to grab, yet I still possess this love like I still possess the hope to eventually give us a shot.
Gren still remembers the first time he performed this piece.
“It was the first time I ever performed. It was March 18, 2012, Wednesday and I stepped outside after the show and I heard, ‘Hey, big guy’. It was Azizi and Mitch, and they said, ‘Hey, we’re doing a show at Dr. Grin’s; why don’t you come on down?’ And ever since then, I’ve been performing with them.”
The two men Gren met on that fateful night would eventually become his partners in the locally known spoken word performance group, the DiaTribe. The DiaTribe consists of members Azizi Jasper, Mitch Burns, Marcel Price, G Foster II, Duke Greene, Venson Dix and Stephen Gren.
The group had its earliest beginnings at the Hookah Lounge in Eastown, where Jasper founded and hosted the first open mic poetry night, the Smokin’ Spoken Word. Nearly five years later, it remains the longest running spoken word venue in West Michigan.
The Message at Dr. Grin’s comedy club inside the B.O.B., and The Drunken Retort inside Stella’s, have since been added to the group’s weekly shows.
Three successful poetry nights is an accomplishment for the DiaTribe members, yet the men have bigger dreams. With the start of the fall season comes another ArtPrize contest, and the men of the DiaTribe were vying for top prize.
“Fable and Mitch came up with the idea of ArtPrize January 1,” Gren said.
The DiaTribe’s entry, titled “Word”, is the first of its kind in the annual ArtPrize competition. They are the first spoken word group to perform for ArtPrize as well as the first to make their entry both blind and deaf friendly.
The type of poetry style they use, spoken word, “doesn’t have to rhyme. A lot of it has metaphors, a lot of it has story telling… with it, there are no boundaries,” says Gren. It is “a growing art form that is not very well known, and a lot of people stereotype it.”
The DiaTribe’s poetry focuses on issues of racial and social inequality, sex, love and relationships, and everything in between. Each poem speaks from the individual experience of its author with thought-provoking questions, leaving its listeners to find answers for themselves.
If the DiaTribe doesn’t win ArtPrize, they are still going to keep performing. “We all understood that when the DiaTribe came around, this was a forever type of thing. None of us will stop writing after ArtPrize. We’re still going to do shows.”
The DiaTribe will continue to perform every Monday and Wednesday from 5 to 8 p.m. inside Dr. Grin’s Comedy Club at the B.O.B. for the duration of ArtPrize. Their exhibit entitled “Word” is available to view every day at the comedy club during regular business hours.