'Whaddup doe?': Chace Morris at ArtX Detroit

Guest author: Sarah Fewkes

Woodward Avenue, often referred to as Detroit’s “Main Street,” stretches 21 miles from Pontiac to Detroit. In Midtown, it’s been gutted in preparation for summer construction. It’s here that Chace “Mic Write” Morris performed, in the Garden Theater, as part of ArtX Detroit, a ten-day festival held throughout the city that includes presentations by 2013-2014 Kresge Fellows.  The 18th of April was warm and bright, and people milled about as the sun was setting, enjoying the heat. As Morris mentioned on stage, the city is changing: it is increasingly dynamic and alive. 

The theater itself was cool, dark, and full of people wandering between their seats in front of the stage and the bar at the back. I arrived early, and was told that if I’d never seen a “Mic Write” performance, I was in for a treat. I purchased a copy of his chapbook  on my way in. When Morris began, he crooned, “you’re coming with me,” the title of this particular work, into his microphone, the band behind him so loud that you could feel the sound in your body before you knew you’d heard it. This performance wasn’t a simple poetry reading–Morris blended his writing with live music and sound effects from the film Robocop.

What became increasingly apparent as he performed was that he is made of Detroit, and that he speaks to Detroit through his poetry. He stopped occasionally between poems to speak freely, and he is so passionate about his city that it wasn’t always clear where his commentary ended and his work began. The audience was littered with people shouting, whooping, and snapping their fingers as Morris engaged with them.

Morris spoke for a while about his decision to use Robocop sounds as part of his performance, discussing the parallels between the film and the reality of the gentrification of Detroit. From his poem “Humidity,” he recited: 

& I’m watching this young woman

casually jog through the hood

like a ray of moonlight unphased

by the same dark that held me


in its unpredictable mouth […]

In Morris’s Artist Statement, he says he is “deeply invested in […] [establishing] some force that maintains the culture and rawness that has always been this city.”  Spending even a few moments in a room that has Morris on stage, it’s clear that he succeeds.