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Ericka 'Kyd Kane' Thompson becomes Grand Rapids' new poet laureate

As poet laureate, Kyd Kane will act as an ambassador of poetry for the city, creating programs that encourage the writing and reading of poetry among residents. She was named in the role this fall by the Grand Rapids Public Library.
Kyd Kane outside of Grand Rapids Public Library's Main Library.

Kyd Kane outside of Grand Rapids Public Library's Main Library. /Grand Rapids Public Library

Kyd Kane performing at 2019's Grand Showcase at Fountain Street Church.

Kyd Kane performing at 2019's Grand Showcase at Fountain Street Church. /Leandro Lara

Fable the Poet performing at 2017's Bull City Slam at Jackson Hall in Durham, NC.

Fable the Poet performing at 2017's Bull City Slam at Jackson Hall in Durham, NC. /Fable the Poet

Grand Rapids has a new poet laureate in Ericka “Kyd Kane” Thompson, who begins a three-year term on Jan. 1.

As poet laureate, Kyd Kane will act as an ambassador of poetry for the city, creating programs that encourage the writing and reading of poetry among residents. She was selected for the role this fall by the Grand Rapids Public Library's Poet Laureate Selection Committee.

Kyd is the seventh to take on the title for Grand Rapids, succeeding Marcel “Fable the Poet” Price, who served since 2017. She's also the first Black woman and openly queer person to be named for the role.

“I’m excited to bring a level of mindfulness and a level of love and peace,” said Kyd, about what she’s looking to contribute as the city's poetry ambassador. “That’s something that’s very, very important to the ways in which I connect with people and build community, especially young people.”

Mindfulness, love, and peace are recurring themes in the artist’s work, often contrasted in her performances with issues such as poverty, privilege, and racism. Tackling these issues are on full display in her poem “broke(n)hunger,” performed last year at TEDxDetroit and available on YouTube.

Born and raised in southeast Grand Rapids, Kyd has been performing poetry since adulthood and a lover of the craft since childhood. Her poetry and visual art have led her to stages across the city, including The Drunken Retort open mic series at Stella’s Lounge, SiTE:LAB, and WYCE’s Electric Poetry series, among others.

The artist has made her rounds beyond Grand Rapids as well. The Detroit Masonic Temple, Kalamazoo Institute of Arts, North Carolina’s Unity Center of Peace, and more have been graced with her performances.

Now, Kyd is a teaching artist with poetry education group and local nonprofit The Diatribe. She’s also co-host of the Creston Vibes open mic series, on hiatus during the pandemic.

Through these experiences, and connections made, Kyd has developed her sense of what community-focused projects to take on as poet laureate. She’s currently planning to launch a local "youth poet laureate program," and create more “contemporary art that includes poetry, and hopefully get lots of people who never share poetry an opportunity to share in a new and innovative way.”


New faces, new energy

Kyd Kane recognizes that she’s also breaking barriers as the city’s first woman of color and openly queer poet laureate.

“It’s always nice to be able to show up as yourself and to not feel the need to hide any parts of you,” said Kyd, who lives and performs proudly through these identities. “And of course I can’t hide my Blackness.”

“But certainly in the past I’ve had to grapple with what it’s like to be not only Black, but also a woman, a queer woman; a Black queer woman,” she continued. “It’s so many intersections and so many layers that can put me in a position to where I cannot move forward or someone may not like it.”

Despite these intersecting hurdles, Kyd knows her perseverance through art and fearless style can serve as a positive example for others like her to embrace their full potential.

“All that really matters is that there are going to be people who identify with me, who see themselves in me, and that’s going to bring new possibilities,” Kyd said. “I think there’s something very, very profound and something very beautiful about that.”

Kyd’s predecessor for poet laureate, Marcel “Fable” Price, also broke barriers as the city’s first person of color and first person under the age of 40 for the role. Incidentally, Kyd and Fable have performed together many times and now work together through The Diatribe nonprofit, where Fable is executive director.

Fable’s poetry, like Kyd’s, addresses issues of privilege and poverty, among others, and empowers individuals to rise above their challenges. The artists’ successes combined, Kyd hopes they can inspire others from the BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities to apply for positions like theirs, or any position they’ve felt discouraged to pursue.

“Hopefully it’ll push them forward and try,” said Kyd, “because times are certainly changing and we need new faces and new energy throughout our communities for sure.”


Passing the torch

Preceding Kyd as the city’s poet laureate, Fable has learned a thing or two along the way. He has passed on his insights to his collaborator and friend, as her voice and community outreach become amplified through her new title.

“What I’ve told Kyd Kane before is to ‘utilize your resources,’” said Fable. “Kyd has worked with SiTE:LAB, Brewery Vivant, The Diatribe, UICA, all of these different institutions. And if you’re going to be the poet laureate in Grand Rapids, you need to have a network like that if you are going to create on a scale so large that everybody can see it.”

The Grand Rapids Public Library Foundation gives a $2,000 per year stipend to the city’s laureate, something Fable notes as incredibly generous. However, there’s often not many other resources to pour into projects and initiatives, he said. This is where Kyd’s established relationships with local artists and venues can prove useful.

Fable has advice for Kyd about her craft as well – advice applicable to all artists: “create unapologetically.”

“Grand Rapids kind of has a weird stigma and a lot of people don’t know that,” said Fable, referring to a belief that Grand Rapids artists often create with a fear of offending others. “If you ask people in Detroit or Chicago about Grand Rapids art, there’s this stigma. So be unapologetic with how you create.”

“Crate loud,” he added. “Create for people who might see you in the mirror when they look at themselves, and do it in ways you haven't seen done in Grand Rapids.”

Fable’s urge to create and promote works with audacity is felt by Kyd, who’s admired his attitude since knowing him. The two first became acquainted several years ago through The Drunken Retort open mics at Stella’s Lounge, co-hosted by Fable.

Since then, she has watched as his craft grew to include a published book, partnerships with mental health resource nonprofits, and turning The Diatribe into a nonprofit itself.

“He certainly inspires me to want to take big leaps and to not dream small, but to dream as big as possible and then just do the work to get there,” Kyd said. “He’s just a guy that’s really, really working hard, so it’s beautiful to be able to follow him and to be able to be inspired by that work ethic.”

“That means I really gotta bring it after someone who’s done such a beautiful job over the past three years,” she added.

The two artists plan to keep up aggressive schedules in 2021 and beyond, both in their art and respective community engagements.



As poet laureate, Kyd first has her sights on the youth poet laureate program she’ll be launching. The program aims to empower younger Grand Rapidians to write and read poetry through a youth advocate, with its selection process spearheaded by Kyd.

To get the program off the ground, Kyd will be “working with some arts and culture nonprofits that are already working with young people,” along with the youth poet laureate who can speak more to a young generation.

“I think that’s something beautiful that can happen,” she said, “and we can both kind of learn the ropes together.”

Kyd is also looking forward to reviving co-host duties for the Creston Vibes open mic series at Creston Brewery. This will wait, though, until the pandemic’s more under control. The brewery’s temporarily closed in light of fluctuating shutdowns for bars and restaurants. Meanwhile, they’re in talks about a possible virtual format for the open mics.

Together with Fable, the artists’ poetry outreach through The Diatribe continues unabated.

The Diatribe has begun to produce free, downloadable content for educators, in response to the pandemic and turn to online learning for Grand Rapids Public Schools and other schools nationwide. The content teaches storytelling skills and is rooted in mental health awareness.

“This content is designed to get kids talking about their experiences and talking about what they’re struggling with now,” said Fable. “It hits English learning standards for middle school, but it has everything you’d ever want to tweak and edit it to teach in high school.”

Kyd said she’s excited about these projects and looking forward to the twists and turns of 2021 and beyond. She sees it all as an adventure, with the poet laureate role giving her an opportunity to push herself in unforeseen ways.

Along the way, Kyd will keep herself in check by asking herself the same questions her art prompts of its listeners and viewers:

“How can I re-challenge myself?” Kyd asks out loud. “How can I challenge my privileges? How can I put myself in a position to be the best version of myself and do great things?”

Refreshing the answers are all part of her journey.

“A journey that I’m excited and ready and prepared for,” Kyd adds.

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