By Jack Hervela
On an otherwise dreary Saturday, Fountain Street Church warmly welcomed The Grand Showcase to it’s introductory run.
The Diatribe-hosted poetry event featured performances from students, local poets and national talent.
Boasting a non-binary all femme lineup, the church’s immense granite pillars and bright luminescent spotlights created a booming atmosphere for pieces contrived from pain, struggle and acceptance.
Vendors including The Grand Rapids Pride Center, Woosah and The Bookman were on hand selling merchandise as well as passing out resources and knowledge on topics touched on in various performances.
The Diatribe, consisting of Marcel “Fable” Price, Rachael Gleason and G. Foster ushered in the event with Fable passionately bellowing, “Are you ready to bring poetry to Grand Rapids?” to immediate, charismatic feedback from some estimated 300 audience members.
With renowned poets Andrea Gibson, Siaara Freeman and T. Miller headlining The Grand Showcase, a gaggle of students from area schools The Diatribe has worked with kicked off performances.
From the outset, it was clear a strict credo was to be followed, self-awareness and hardlined stances front and center.
In a piece which far surpassed their age, two middle school students from Ottawa County tackled being trans during such formative years, comparing such feelings to being the, “knight trapped in the princess tower, with no knight to save you.”
“Beyond Andrea, Siaara and the wonderful poets, those youth speaking their truth and being applauded for it, that means everything to me,” said Larry DeShane of the Grand Rapids Pride Center.
Following the students, Grand Rapids poets Michaelyn, KFG, Tae, Zerilli and Rachael Gleason all spoke powerfully about race, sexuality and feminism.
Michaelyn tore through every elephant crowding the room, expressing distaste with those women who voted for Donald Trump and calling for feminism to regain its revolutionary roots.
“The best part was seeing young adults able to express themselves in a safe space while talking about being queer, sexual assault, being a black child in this nation, all while being true to themselves, and when you can bring truth to the stage, that’s what we need more of for the youth,” said Kyn Ewing, 28, of Grand Rapids.
Traveling from Ohio, Siaara Freeman started the headliners with three enigmatic and boisterous poems.
The first two echoed each other, putting a mirror to the different upbringings her parents separately provided with the third a list of cartoon characters Freeman saw as in need of cultural re-working into better representation.
“Seeing Siaara Freeman up on stage showing who she is and all those stories that come with it is something you need to see,” Ewing said.
Miller provided a shorter performance, focusing on finding and keeping identity strong while being black and queer today.
With Miller opening a discussion of identity, some were encouraging of such open discourse.
“Language itself is about building bridges of communication for people to understand each other, help understand who you are and understand the human experience in a richer and deeper way,” said Steve Assarian, Business Librarian at Grand Rapids Public Library.
In what would come to characterize their set, Andrea Gibson brought fire early on, using a phallic term already off the table in defiance of “childish men.”
Stripping to raw emotion, Gibson spoke mountains against those who have oppressed, overlooked and ostracized their voice in the past.
“We are very vain and events like this dig deeper and we actually tear into parts of our souls we hide,” said Aubs Thompson, of Grand Rapids, in response to Gibson’s unparalleled openness.
As attendees filed in line to catch Gibson, Freeman and Miller before specific 5 p.m. flights left Gerald R. Ford Airport, volunteers and organizers applauded each other and the work done.
“You know, without being critical of ourselves, it was amazing,” said G. Foster, Diatribe poet and organizer of The Grand Showcase.
When asked about longevity of The Grand Showcase and if it will continue, Foster offered, “Always. It’s definitely gonna happen, when people see something be done they always want to be involved for the next go around.”